Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Danger in Dips

Drop that tortilla and step away from the dip! You might want to beware the nasty stuff waiting to get scooped up.

In a report released yesterday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to salsa and guacamole accounted for 1 in 25 restaurant-associated outbreaks from 1998 to 2008, or double the rate of the preceding decade.

According to the CDC's announcement, "Fresh salsa and guacamole, especially those served in retail food establishments, may be important vehicles of foodborne infection," says Magdalena Kendall, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) researcher who collaborated on the CDC study. "Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce including hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks."

In 20 percent of the restaurant outbreaks in the study, food workers were reported as the source of the contamination, and in 30 percent of the cases, inappropriate storage times and temperatures were cited. The majority of outbreaks involved salmonella, norovirus and shigella, according to an abstract of the report.

Keep in mind that bacteria love other foods and home kitchens too, and the little bugs are dangerous. According to the Food and Drug Administration, about 13 people die every day because of foodborne pathogens. The important thing is to practice safe food handling. First off, wash hands well (dirt in the crevices around fingernails contains germs too). Wash those fruits and veggies, especially if they won't be cooked to kill pathogens. Use clean kitchen equipment. Keep foods at safe temperatures. And throw out any old food that you are unsure of. Check out FoodSafety.gov for all sorts of information on food handling and illness.

Related topics: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service is concerned that people may still have bison meat potentially contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 in their freezers following a recall of products from Rocky Mountain Natural Meats of Henderson, Colo.

A Las Vegas woman is still in rehab fighting to regain her life more than a year after her E. coli infection tied to recalled cookie dough.

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