Raw, warm vegetables breed illness in salsa, guac

New research implicates guacamole or salsa in 3.9 percent of restaurant-related outbreaks of foodborne illness between 1998 and 2008, more than double the rates of previous measurement periods. Both sauces often combine raw ingredients – tomatoes, peppers and cilantro – that have each been blamed for past outbreaks, the CDC release said.

salsaPhoto by anitasarkeesian via Flickr

Improper storage and temperature were blamed for 30 percent of the outbreaks, and another 20 percent were caused by worker-related contamination. The outbreaks are common enough that the government even gives them their own acronym (SGA!), an honor that’s admittedly not particularly rare in the world of federal bureaucracy.

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 percent of the 136 SGA outbreaks. SGA outbreaks accounted for 1.5 percent of all food establishment outbreaks from 1984 to 1997. This figure more than doubled to 3.9 percent during the ten-year period from 1998 to 2008.

According to the release, the primary weapon against such outbreaks is simply the awareness that vegetables are a threat.

“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,” (Magdalena Kendall, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education researcher) says. “Awareness that salsa and guacamole can transmit foodborne illness, particularly in restaurants, is key to preventing future outbreaks.”

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