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July 12th, 2010
04:19 PM ET

Salsa, guacamole can carry an unhealthy kick, CDC says

Uh oh, salsa and guacamole lovers. Sure these two condiments are zesty and chunky – but be forewarned, they could be the culprits behind foodborne illnesses.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that 3.9 percent of foodborne outbreaks from 1998 to 2008 in restaurants were confirmed or suspected to be from salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo.

These 136 reported outbreaks included 12 pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, shigella, hepatitis A and norovirus.  Researchers found three deaths associated with the outbreaks.

The analysis did not explore specific reasons how salsa and guacamole became contaminated, but Dr. Rajal Mody, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC in the division that researches foodborne and environmental diseases, said the existing scientific literature provides some clues.

“Salsa and guacamole are made in large batches,” he said.  “Small amounts of contamination can affect lots of servings.  There is the potential that salsa and guacamole are not properly refrigerated. And we know salsa and guacamole are often made from diced fresh produce items- tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, which we know have been implicated as sources in past outbreaks.”

Improper storage times and temperatures were reported in about 30 percent of these restaurants, according to the research.  In 20 percent of these salsa-and-guacamole-related incidents, the food workers were reported as the source of contamination.

Consumers who want to minimize risks should see whether the restaurant posts their environmental inspection score, Mody suggested.

“Ideally, our work here generates some interest in safe handling of salsa and guacamole,” he said.  “Just like in a restaurant kitchen, people making salsa at home should follow good safety practices. It’s pretty basic. Clean your food, separate it as you prepare it, cook it and chill.”

The CDC presented these findings Monday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.


soundoff (121 Responses)
  1. thund3rbox

    That's why you serve with tequila. You know, to kill all the germs. Just in case...

    July 12, 2010 at 21:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. SMUM

    People, people...what can you expect of salsa and guacamole? They need to be bad for us, you know, illegal immigrants' food. Hopefully Arizona will come to our rescue and ban all salsa and guacamole recipes.

    July 12, 2010 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jim

    3.9% of all cases? Sounds like the main entree could be a bigger risk! I'll take my chances with my salsa.

    July 12, 2010 at 21:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. big red from nashville

    as a foodservice worker, this study makes perfect sense. all three condiments mentioned (salsa, guacamole, and pico) are made from raw produce, and as we have seen, through recent outbreaks involving spinach and cilantro grown in corporate-sponsored mass gardens, uncooked produce is a common source of contamination. when it comes to raw food, no matter how hard the chef or produce distributor tries to maintain quality controls, oftentimes the only solution for solving the problems of contamination is to buy from local, pesticide-free and organic produce growers/suppliers while ensuring the cleanliness of your home kitchen by thoroughly washing all raw fruits and vegetables, sanitizing all surfaces used in the preparation process, and delegating certain tools for the preparation of raw foods and volatile foods (like meat, dairy, and eggs) through a color-coding/marking system to ensure certain delineation between the two groups. as smokey the bear said "only YOU can prevent forest fires!"

    July 12, 2010 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. russell

    i eat at mexican, {real mexican} restaurants all the time and have never gotten sick from there, but it is from the "american" hang outs such as applebees, tgi friday's, chili"s, toac bell, etc, which i got diarrhea from. i have known several workers from different mexican restaruants and they are upstanding workers and are very sanitary becuase they care about their jobs. it is the young, bored workers from the above mentioned types of restaurants who are unsanitary. they don't care and they are more likely to put "things'" in your food.

    July 12, 2010 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Stalin

    Amen.........comrade.

    July 12, 2010 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jim Douglas

    3.9%? Is that news? what about the other 96.1%??

    July 13, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Pierre

    3.9%? I think I'll take that risk.

    July 13, 2010 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Lingam

    "The analysis did not explore specific reasons how salsa and guacamole became contaminated" – maybe from illegal alien cooks bathing in the kitchen? This is something I have personally witnessed.

    July 13, 2010 at 03:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sodium Free!

    Have you seen those salsa/guacamole bars at Pollo Loco? Disgusting and they are not kept fresh or cleaned up regularly, but people still dip into them and drip all over and blop that crap into their little containers that don't hold much.

    Nasty behavior leads to nasty illnesses.

    July 13, 2010 at 03:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Name(required)

    ..."report found that 3.9 percent of foodborne outbreaks from 1998 to 2008 in restaurants were CONFIRMED or SUSPECTED to be from salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo."

    "News" reports such as this one simply continue to perpetuate the alarmist and sensationalist nature that permeates today's media.

    The percentage should be split between the terms confirmed and suspected, not provided as a sum of the two. There is a very significant difference in meaning between the terms.

    Since the term confirmed is used, we may conclude that some percentage of contamination has been verified, and that is the value that should be presented.

    If an establishment is identified as a source of foodborne illness, we may also conclude that every item produced in that facility is "suspect".

    Should the media publish a list of all the "suspects"?

    I think not, which is why I disagree with the inclusion of cases where guacamole and salsa are merely suspected, not confirmed.

    Include the full list of suspected foods, or include none of them, but don't add weight to to a percentage by including "may be's".

    July 13, 2010 at 06:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ktvw

    Wouldn't it be nice if instead of all the cautions about cooking your meat thoroughly the USDA did something about the reasons meat is so contaminated in the first place??? Perhaps if all cattle had to be turned out to graze and fed grasses instead of grains, if their stalls were cleaned several times a day and their waste was composted instead of allowed to seep into the water supply, and if they were allowed to mature before slaughtering.... but no, the USDA is ensuring we get thoroughly contaminated meat and just telling us to make sure we're the ones handling it safely.

    July 13, 2010 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • king of men

      American beef always gives me the liquid trots – that's why I love it so. Hey, wait a second, isn't this supposed to be about guacamole and salsa?

      July 13, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse |
  13. LSP

    What is that.....00000000000000000001% of the amount of salsa and guacamole eaten every day? Doesn't seem like news to me, or enough to keep me from enjoying those things. I'm just sayin'.

    July 13, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. MoreThanUKno

    You have a better chance of dieing from a vending machine toppling on you.

    ..."media pop-science" crap study...

    July 13, 2010 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Sarita

    Medical Student:

    I do not agree. National stats are always a few years out of date. The issue is that state by state reporting rules and care in reporting are different. Takes a lot of tracking down.

    July 19, 2010 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Emily

    Umm...are the reporters retarded? Listeria is ubiquitous and you can't prevent 100% of it entering guacamole if you're going to cut an avo skin to get at the flesh. E.coli is basically the same. Once you cut avo...it's inside. You can't heat it to kill it, you can freeze it to stop growth for a period of time but it doesn't kill it. The Hep A is pretty nasty, they should wash their hands and equipment used! But testing for these things and being surprised they're there shows they're ill-educated. It's the level of contamination that is dangerous, not the presence.

    July 21, 2010 at 04:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Amber

    Um, it´s very simple. Every time you eat out, in any kind of restaurant, you eat the food putting your trust in the people who prepared it. And you silently accept that anything could have happened to this food before it arrived at your table. That doesn´t mean that it´s ok for kitchen workers to spit in your food or unwittingly transfer their fecal matter into your salsa, but it means that it COULD have happened. If you really can´t stomach the thought, go home and make your own.

    July 22, 2010 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mal

    I used to work at McD's. You have NO IDEA what awful things were being done to the food, so I'm sure it still happens a lot in any kind of restaurant.

    OTOH, Life is short. Ya gotta take a chance or just stay the hell home. Still, I'm glad somebody looks at this issue for us. I'm sure most CDC & USDA workers are sincerely trying to prevent me from getting sick. We just have to change our culture to make it harder for food contamination to happen.

    Remember, 100 years ago NOBODY was doing anything about food poisoning. Do we want to go back to that?

    A votre sante'!

    July 23, 2010 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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