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Salsa, guacamole linked to food-borne illness--CDC report

According to safety experts, the outbreaks can be prevented with safe preparation followed by proper storage of fresh salsa and guacamole. This helps reduce the risk of contamination as well as the growth of pathogens.

According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the two favorite Mexican snacks, salsa and guacamole could be the main culprits behind food-borne outbreaks in the nation.

In recent years, the number of outbreaks linked to salsa or guacamole has seen a spike.

Research indicates that one out of every 25 food poisoning events, between 1998 and 2008, was traced back to the two popular food items.

Magdalena Kendall, one of the researchers on the study at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., stated, "Fresh salsa and guacamole, especially those served in retail food establishments, may be important vehicles of food-borne infection.”

From 1984 to 1997, salsa and guacamole illness accounted for nearly 1.5 percent of all outbreaks in food establishments and restaurants. Between 1998 and 2008 the figure surged to 3.9 percent.

Some specific findings of the report
The analysis of data on food-borne outbreaks collected by the CDC since 1973, found that there were no documented illness involving salsa or guacamole reported before 1984.

The statistics revealed that out of 136 salsa or guacamole outbreaks, 84 percent occurred in restaurants and delis.

From 1984 to 1997, salsa and guacamole illness accounted for nearly 1.5 percent of all outbreaks in food establishments and restaurants. Between 1998 and 2008 the figure surged to 3.9 percent.

The reported outbreaks included 12 pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, shigella, hepatitis A and norovirus. In addition, three deaths were also linked with the popular foods.

According to the report, improper storage times and temperatures were reported in about 30 percent of these restaurants.

In addition, 20 percent of the contamination incidents were due to improper sanitation such as lack of hand washing by food workers and helpers.

Reasons for contamination
Salsa and guacamole are full of raw vegetables such as fresh avocados, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro and onions which can easily spoil if not properly stored or refrigerated.

All these fresh ingredients have been linked to salmonella outbreaks in recent years.

Also, contaminating microbes such as salmonella can flourish when big batches of salsa or guacamole are not frozen properly.

Kendell added, "Possible reasons salsa and guacamole can pose a risk for foodborne 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."

According to safety experts, the outbreaks can be prevented with safe preparation followed by proper storage of fresh salsa and guacamole. This helps to reduce the risk of contamination as well as the growth of pathogens.

Kendall stated, "Awareness that salsa and guacamole can transmit food-borne illness, particularly in restaurants, is key to preventing future outbreaks.

“We want restaurants and anyone preparing fresh salsa and guacamole at home to be aware that these foods containing raw ingredients should be carefully prepared and refrigerated to help prevent illness.”