Guacamole, salsa to blame for food poisoning outbreaks

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: October 18th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Sorry, Mexican food lovers. Better think twice before tucking into your favorite dip at the next trip to the taqueria.

According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, guacamole and salsa were responsible for one out of every twenty-five identified outbreaks of food poisoning in restaurants between 1998 and 2008.

Why the big risk? Well, the central ingredients in both dishes… hot peppers, cilantro and tomatoes… are known as frequent carriers of bacteria that causes food poisoning. Because they are served raw, there’s no chance heat will kill the germs.

Plus, most restaurants make the dips in large batches and it’s not always guaranteed they will be properly refrigerated. That allows the pathogens to multiply quickly.

Restaurant workers must take some of the blame, too. While about thirty percent of the food poisoning incidents were blamed on improper storage, another twenty percent were traced back to employees.

According to the CDC study, guacamole and salsa were responsible for three point nine percent of food poisoning incidents reported in food establishments. That’s more than double the amount found between 1984 and 1997.

Norovirus, which causes acute diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain, was the most common culprit. Others included salmonella and e.coli.

So should restaurants stop serving the savory dips? That’s not necessary, food scientists say. Proper refrigeration will keep the dishes safe. Also, adding fresh lime juice and garlic cuts down on the growth of bacteria.

As for consumers, well, caveat emptor. If you see a big tub of salsa sitting on a counter, buzzing with flies, you just might want to take your business elsewhere.