Salsa, guacamole increasingly at root of food poisoning

Salsa and guacamole are emerging as some of the fastest-growing causes of foodborne illness, according to a study released Monday by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Between 1998 and 2008, there were twice as many foodborne outbreaks associated with salsa, guacamole and pico de gallo than there were in the previous decade, CDC found.

Magdalena Kendall, a researcher at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) who helped with the study, named several possible factors behind the jump. Salsa and guacamole, she noted, are often made in large batches, so even a small amount of contamination could affect many people; they tend to sit outside of refrigerators for long stretches of time; and they're both made with raw ingredients, including tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and cilantro, "each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks," Kendall said.

CDC began monitoring the cause of foodborne outbreaks in 1973, but the first case associated with salsa and guacamole didn't appear until 11 years later. Between 1984 and 1997, those dishes accounted for 1.5 percent of all foodborne outbreaks — a rate that jumped to 3.9 percent between 1998 and 2008, researches found. 

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