Salsa, guacamole increasingly important causes of foodborne disease

Nearly 1 out of every 25 restaurant-associated foodborne outbreaks with identified food sources between 1998 and 2008 can be traced back to contaminated salsa or guacamole, more than double the rate during the previous decade, according to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

July 14, 2010

Nearly 1 out of every 25 restaurant-associated foodborne outbreaks with identified food sources between 1998 and 2008 can be traced back to contaminated salsa or guacamole, more than double the rate during the previous decade, according to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“Fresh salsa and guacamole, especially those served in retail food establishments, may be important vehicles of foodborne infection,” said Magdalena Kendall, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) researcher who collaborated on the CDC study. “Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce including hot peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks.”

To better assess the role of these popular foods in outbreaks, 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 and analyzed trends in the proportion of all outbreaks with identified food sources.

CDC began conducting surveillance for foodborne disease outbreaks began in 1973, yet no salsa- or guacamole-associated (SGA) outbreaks were reported before 1984. Restaurants and delis were the settings for 84% of the 136 SGA outbreaks. SGA outbreaks accounted for 1.5% of all food establishment outbreaks from 1984 to 1997. This figure more than doubled to 3.9% during the 10-year period from 1998 to 2008.

Inappropriate storage times or temperatures were reported in 30% of the SGA outbreaks in restaurants or delis and may have contributed to the outbreaks. Food workers were reported as the source of contamination in 20% of the restaurant outbreaks.

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