Food Poisoning Outbreaks Increasingly Linked to Guacamole, Salsa

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released information on emerging research into <"">food poisoning outbreaks. Between 1998 and 2008 one of every 25 outbreaks linked to restaurants originated with either salsa or guacamole, wrote MSNBC.

The figures indicate a more than doubling over the past ten years, said CDC officials, wrote MSNBC. “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, quoted MSNBC. Kendall collaborated on the study. The ingredients in salsa, such as peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro, have all been involved in large Salmonella outbreaks recently, said MSNBC.

The team researched CDC records for outbreaks linked to salsa and guacamole back to 1973, when the CDC began recording foodborne outbreaks, wrote MSNBC. No outbreaks were linked to salsa and guacamole until 1984, then of 136 outbreaks linked to dip, the team found that most—84 percent—were associated with restaurants and delis, reported MSNBC. From 1984 to 1997, salsa and guacamole were connected to 1.5 percent of all outbreaks linked to food establishments. That figure rose by close to four percent from 1998 and 2008, the CDC said, according to MSNBC.

Foodborne outbreaks linked to salsa and guacamole caused 5,560 illnesses, 145 hospitalizations, and three deaths, said MSNBC, citing the research. One-third of the illnesses were caused by the Salmonella pathogen, 18 percent by norovirus, 15 percent by shigella; 25 percent had no known origin, added MSNBC.

Causes had to do with inappropriate storage times and temperatures (30 percent) and food workers (20 percent), said MSNBC, explaining that, according to Kendall, salsa and guacamole are generally left out and not refrigerated. Also, said Kendall, when both condiments are made, they are often made in large quantities; therefore, a small contaminant can infect a lot of consumers, noted MSNBC. “Awareness that salsa and guacamole can transmit foodborne illness, particularly in restaurants, is key to preventing future outbreaks,” Kendall said in a press release, quoted MSNBC.

We recently wrote that The Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), using its recently released tool for calculating the cost of foodborne illnesses, estimated that Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 cases cost the nation about $3.13 billion a year. The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated that Salmonella infections, from all sources, cost about $2.65 billion annually, based on an estimate by the CDC of 1.4 million Salmonella cases annually from all sources, with 415 deaths. The estimated average cost per case is $1,896.

MSNBC said that, earlier this year, a group of consumer and public health groups found that foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. $152 billion in health-related expenses annually.

Also, while the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill—one year ago—for the purpose of reorganizing the U.S. food safety system, the Senate has not taken any action to reorganize, said MSNBC.

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