Contaminated salsa or guacamole was responsible for one out of every 25 outbreaks of restaurant-associated foodborne illnesses between 1998 and 2008, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Salsa and guacamole accounted for 3.9 percent of all foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants in that time period, compared with only 1.5 percent of outbreaks between 1984 and 1997, the CDC found.
“Fresh salsa and guacamole, especially those served in retail food establishments, may be important vehicles of food-borne infection,” said Magdalena Kendall, a researcher from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education who worked with the CDC on the study. “Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce, including hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks.”
Kendall and her colleagues searched all foodborne illness outbreaks reported to the CDC that specified or confirmed salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo as an ingredient or source. They then analyzed those cases against all outbreaks with identified food sources.
“Possible reasons salsa and guacamole can pose a risk for food-borne illness is that they may not be refrigerated appropriately and are often made in large batches so even a small amount of contamination can affect many customers,” Kendall said. “Awareness that salsa and guacamole can transmit food-borne illness, particularly in restaurants, is key to preventing future outbreaks.”
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