Think twice before helping yourself into that free bowl of restaurant dip.
New research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that 1 out of every 25 outbreaks of food poisoning in restaurants can be traced back to contaminated salsa or guacamole.
"Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce including hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks," says Magdalena Kendall, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education researcher who worked on the study. The study tracked food-borne outbreaks reported to the CDC between 1998 and 2008 that had salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo as a confirmed or suspected culprit in the food poisoning cases. What the researchers found was that was that restaurants and delis were the places for 84% of the 136 outbreaks reported.
Between 1984 and 1997, salsa- or guacamole-associated outbreaks made up 1.5% of all food establishment food poisonings. That number jumped to 3.9% during the 1998 to 2008 time period. Not storing the salsa or dip correctly or at the wrong temperature were reported in 30% of the outbreaks, while workers were reported as the contamination source in 20% of the restaurant outbreaks.
"Possible reasons salsa and guacamole can pose a risk for food-borne 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," Kendall says.
Food poisoning often has symptoms including nausea, diarrhea and fever that is caused by bacteria in contaminated foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends storing perishable food at 40 degrees F or below and to cook food to at least 140 degrees F. then reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F.
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