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Mexican Food Staples An Increasing Cause Of Food Poisoning

July 13, 2010

Researchers at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) meeting on Monday said that contaminated salsa and guacamole dips are among the most common causes of food poisoning in restaurants, and warned that food workers need to take greater care to keep customers from getting sick.

They said that nearly one out of every 25 traceable outbreaks of foodborne disease from 1998 to 2008 began with some type of popular dip that contains onions, tomatoes, peppers, avocados and other ingredients.

A possible reason that salsa and guacamole dips pose a risk for foodborne illness is that “they may not be refrigerated and are often made in large batches, so even a small amount of contamination” is enough to make customers sick, said Magdalena Kendall of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

“Awareness that salsa and guacamole can transmit foodborne illness, particularly in restaurants, is key to preventing future outbreaks,” Kendall said in a statement.

“Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce, including hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks,” she added.

Kendall and her colleagues analyzed all outbreaks of foodborne illness reported to the CDC. They found that none were associated with salsa or guacamole before 1984, but, by 1998 to 2008 they accounted for nearly 4 percent of all foodborne illness outbreaks tied to restaurants.

“We want restaurants and anyone preparing fresh salsa and guacamole at home to be aware that these foods containing raw ingredients should be carefully prepared and refrigerated to help prevent illness,” said Kendall.

A coalition of consumer and public health groups reported in March that foodborne illnesses cost the US an estimated $152 billion in healthcare costs each year.

The US House of Representatives passed a bill last year to revamp the complicated US food safety program, but the Senate has yet to act, despite wide reaching bipartisan agreements on the issue.

The CDC said that an estimated 76 million people get sick in the United States every year due to contaminated food and 5,000 die.

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