Step away from the chips and dip. Specifically, from the guacamole and salsa. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contaminated salsa and/or guacamole were to blame in nearly 1 out of every 25 restaurant foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2008.
According to MSNBC, some of this problem can be traced to the individual ingredients in salsa — peppers, tomatoes, cilantro; they all have been linked to widespread salmonella outbreaks in recent years. “Fresh salsa and guacamole, especially those served in retail food establishments, may be important vehicles of foodborne infection,” said Magdalena Kendall, a researcher at Tennessee's Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education who collaborated on the study.
According to the CDC, Kendall and her colleagues searched all foodborne outbreaks reported to the CDC for those with salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo as a confirmed or suspected food vehicle but found none until 1984. Of the 136 dip-related outbreaks they found, 84 percent were tied to restaurants and delis.
In case you were concerned that the communal aspects of many people eating out of the same bowl was somehow to blame for the spread of foodborne illness, MSNBC reports that this is not the case. Improper storage and incorrect temperatures were often reported in the cases linked to restaurants or delis, possibly contributing to the problem.
Food workers were the source of contamination in 20 percent of the outbreaks. The CDC states that risk of contamination can also be lowered by following guidelines for safe preparation and storage of fresh salsa and guacamole to reduce contamination or pathogen growth.
Madgalena Kendall confirms, as always, knowledge is power. “Awareness that salsa and guacamole can transmit foodborne illness, particularly in restaurants, is key to preventing future outbreaks,” Kendall said in a press release.
The CDC estimates that 76 million people in the United States get sick each year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die.