New Research-Salsa, Guacamole Increasingly Culprits of Food Illness

By: Ausitn American Statesman
By: Ausitn American Statesman

Mexican food lovers, take note. Salsa, guacamole and pico de gallo — food staples for many Texans — increasingly are being fingered as the culprits in outbreaks of food illness, research released today says.

Nearly one out of 25 U.S. restaurant-associated foodborne outbreaks between 1998 and 2008 was traced to contaminated salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo, more than double the rate during the previous decade, according to a news release about the research. It was released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

The release did not break down outbreaks by state, and I could not find a full report online but have a call into the main researcher.

“Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce including hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks,” said Magdalena Kendall, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education researcher who worked on the CDC study.

The researchers examined reports of food illnesses going back to 1973. They did not find any reports of salsa- or guacamole-associated outbreaks before 1984, according to the CDC. But from 1984 to 1997, 1.5 percent of the restaurant outbreaks were related to salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo. During the next decade, that more than doubled to 3.9 percent.

A third of the time, the problem was improper storage or temperatures, according to the news release. Food workers were said to be the source of contamination 20 percent of the time.

Because the products are made in large batches, many people can be affected, Kendall said. “Awareness that salsa and guacamole can transmit foodborne illness, particularly in restaurants, is key to preventing future outbreaks,” she said.

An estimated 76 million Americans fall ill from eating contaminated food each year. Most people are sick for just a day or two, but some cases are serious. About 325,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 die because of foodborne diseases each year, the CDC says.

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