If you go out to restaurants and order salsa and/or guacamole with your meals or appetizers: Beware. Contaminated salsa or guacamole were involved in nearly 1 out of every 25 foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food in restaurants between 1998 and 2008, reported by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the problems is that individual ingredients in salsa such as peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro all have been linked to widespread salmonella outbreaks in recent years.
The salsa and guacamole outbreaks sickened some 5,560 people, sent 145 people to hospital and contributed to three deaths, the researchers found. About a third of illnesses were caused by salmonella, 18 percent were caused by norovirus and about 15 percent by shigella. About a quarter of the infections were unknown. Researchers feel that incorrect storage times and temperatures were reported in 30 percent of the cases in restaurants or delis, possibly contributing to the problem. Salsa and guacamole should not be sitting out at room temperature, they should be refrigerated. Food workers were the source of contamination in 20 percent of the outbreaks. In March public health groups reported that foodborne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year.