Austin American-Statesman - - LOCALBRIEFING -

From Mary Ann Roser’s states­

Mex­i­can food lovers, take note. Salsa, gua­camole and pico de gallo — food sta­ples for many Tex­ans — in­creas­ingly are be­ing fin­gered as the cul­prits in out­breaks of food ill­ness, re­search re­leased Mon­day says.

Nearly one out of 25 U.S. res­tau­rant-as­so­ci­ated food­borne out­breaks be­tween 1998 and 2008 was traced to con­tam­i­nated salsa, gua­camole or pico de gallo, more than dou­ble the rate dur­ing the pre­vi­ous decade, ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease about the re­search. It was re­leased Mon­day by the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion at the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Emerg­ing In­fec­tious Dis­eases in At­lanta. The re­lease did not break down out­breaks by state. “Salsa and gua­camole of­ten con­tain diced raw pro­duce in­clud­ing hot pep­pers, toma­toes and ci­lantro, each of which has been im­pli­cated in past out­breaks,” said Mag­dalena Ken­dall, an Oak Ridge In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and Ed­u­ca­tion re­searcher who worked on the CDC study.

The re­searchers ex­am­ined re­ports of food ill­nesses go­ing back to 1973. They did not find any re­ports of salsa-or gua­camole-as­so­ci­ated out­breaks be­fore 1984, ac­cord­ing to the CDC. But from 1984 to 1997, 1.5 per­cent of the res­tau­rant out­breaks were re­lated to salsa, gua­camole or pico de gallo. Dur­ing the next decade, that more than dou­bled to 3.9 per­cent.

A third of the time, the prob­lem was im­proper stor­age or tem­per­a­tures, ac­cord­ing to the news re­lease. Food work­ers were said to be the source of con­tam­i­na­tion 20 per­cent of the time.

Be­cause the prod­ucts are made in large batches, many peo­ple can be af­fected, Ken­dall said.

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

An es­ti­mated 76 mil­lion Amer­i­cans fall ill from eat­ing con­tam­i­nated food each year. Most peo­ple are sick for just a day or two, but some cases are se­ri­ous. About 325,000 peo­ple are hos­pi­tal­ized and 5,000 die be­cause of food­borne dis­eases each year, the CDC says.

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