Salsa and Guacamole: Are They Safe?
By Magdalena Kendall, surveillance epidemiologist with the CDC
Last week, my colleagues and I presented our research on foodborne outbreaks linked to salsa and guacamole. Recently, the number of these reported outbreaks has increased. Between 1998 and 2008, nearly 1 of every 25 outbreaks associated with restaurants or delis may have been caused by contaminated salsa or guacamole.
We received a lot of questions about our research and what it means for people who love salsa and guacamole. (We love them, too!) Here are some answers for consumers.
Should I stop eating salsa and guacamole?
We’re not suggesting that you stop eating these foods or stop eating at restaurants. These are popular foods across the United States and are served in a variety of restaurants and at home. We just want to stress how important it is that these foods are prepared and stored safely.
What kinds of illnesses were associated with these outbreaks?
Did your research show what contributed to these outbreaks?
Not in all cases, but there were some important clues. In 30 percent of the outbreaks, local investigators reported that the salsa or guacamole wasn’t stored or refrigerated properly. In another 20 percent, the investigators reported that food workers were the likely source of the contamination. In some cases, ingredients may have been contaminated before arriving in a kitchen.
Do you know which specific ingredients were contaminated?
We usually don’t know which ingredients were contaminated. But we do know that salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce, such as hot peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro. These ingredients have been implicated in past outbreaks.
Is there anything else about salsa or guacamole that makes it particularly likely to become contaminated?
Germs may grow to levels that can cause sickness if these foods are not prepared or stored safely in restaurants and homes. Also, salsa and guacamole are often made in large batches at restaurants, so even a small amount of contamination can affect many servings.
What about salsa that you buy at the store?
These outbreaks were not caused by commercially prepared (jarred) salsas that you would buy in a grocery store. Jarred salsas are usually heated to kill germs that may be present. Instead, most of the salsas we studied were freshly prepared.
Is homemade salsa or guacamole safe?
That depends on whether you follow these food safety rules:
- Before and after preparing food, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
- Wash the ingredients thoroughly under running water. That includes ingredients that you plan to peel, such as avocados.
- Make sure that knives, cutting boards, containers, and other kitchen surfaces are clean.
- Keep the salsa or guacamole refrigerated until you serve it. Do not leave it out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 degrees, do not leave it out for more than 1 hour.
If you were eating out, what would you do to make sure these foods are safe?
If I were worried about the food safety practices in a restaurant, I would ask to see health department inspection results. I might also ask whether the restaurant has a manager who is certified in food safety. Some counties or states require this.
We've had a lot of success selling color-coded cutting boards that are designed to reduce cross-contamination. That way it's easy to make sure one board is for poultry, one is for vegetables, etc. I know it doesn't guarantee the foodservice workers will use them properly, but every bit helps to reduce contamination.
Most people don't wash their fruits and vegetables properly before cooking. It doesn't matter whether you're preparing your meal at home or eating out at a Mexican restaurant. This can lead to ingesting contaminates that can make us ill.
I do not recall ever having a problem with salsa or guacamole. Living in Arizona these two accompaniments are served everywhere by Mexican restaurants and many other restaurants also. My husband and I live near many casinos and have been to many of their restaurants and buffets. Salads seem to be the bigger problem and I mean a problem when we both get sick and more than a couple of times. We linked this to the fact that was the only common food we had had at any of these places over a period of time. We don't eat at buffets any longer and pay much attention to what we see and hear in most given restaurants. You must be aware of all foods, how they are prepared, served, stored and disposed of in all kitchens! Look, see and hear. If you sense something isn't right, it probably isn't.
I love eating out at Mexican restaurants, but its kind of scary thinking about the risks that could be involved when you don't know exactly how the food is being stored/prepared. Even in chain restaurants or at family owned, it really makes you think about how the salsa and guacomole is being prepared. I feel like next time I go out, and they ask if I want either of those on the inside the taco, I might choose to do without. Thank you for the information though. It's always good to know what's going on in the world.
My family and myself have been eating for a long time guacamole and salsa, and we have never been ill because those ingredients. It has to be a matter of hygiene what make you get any type of illness. I can't picture a world without guacamole. Avocado Diced Onions Diced Cilantro Diced jalapeÃ±os Lime Juice Olive Oil Salt & Pepper Mix everything without liquefying the avocado (live it a little chunky) and is any time good snack.
A great thing to make at home, in different ways; I usually combine the avocado with purple onion, lemon, and tahini.
how many of these operations actually core their tomatoes? i'd bet that few do because of the cost and without the proper soak to clean them, this could be a source of contamination.
Many reasons to contaminate any food which some take longer than the other and also consumers digest and handle contaminated food differently: * Kitchens temperature of restaurants / washing hands after using public bathrooms whether employee or consumer / washing the ingredients thoroughly as the knife will carry any bacteria into the cutting too / working stations for vegetables should be separated from poultry stations…Besides, transporting the food or not growing full cycle in time…. A lot is involved.