Careful with the guac: emergence of salsa and guacamole as frequent vehicles of foodborne disease outbreaks in the US 1973–2008

American researchers report fresh salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce, are often made in large batches, and are often poorly refrigerated, which may make them prone to contamination that can cause foodborne illness.

The safety of salsa and guacamole is increasingly important as these foods gain popularity. Since 1973, local, state, and territorial health departments guacamole2have voluntarily reported foodborne disease outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS) using a standard reporting form. FDOSS used paper-based reporting for 1973–1997 and switched to electronic reporting for 1998–2008.

We reviewed all reports of outbreaks during 1973–2008 in which salsa or guacamole was reported as a vehicle. We found 136 outbreaks in which salsa or guacamole was reported as a possible vehicle, which resulted in 5,658 illnesses.

Of these 136 salsa- or guacamole-associated (SGA) outbreaks additional possible food vehicles were reported for 33 (24%) outbreaks. There were no SGA outbreaks reported before 1984.

Among reported outbreaks, most were caused by norovirus (24%), nontyphoidal Salmonella (19%), and Shigella (7%). Eighty-four percent of outbreaks were caused by foods prepared in restaurants or delis; of these, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA19% reported ill foodworkers, and 29% reported improper storage as possible contributing factors.

Among all foodborne disease outbreaks with a reported food vehicle during 1984–1997, 26 (0.9%) of 2,966 outbreaks were SGA, and during 1998–2008, 110 (1.4%) of 7,738 outbreaks were SGA. The number of reported foodborne disease outbreaks attributable to salsa or guacamole increased in the United States from 1984 to 2008, especially in later years, and especially in restaurants.

Fresh salsa and guacamole require careful preparation and storage. Focused prevention strategies should reduce the risk of illness and ensure that these foods are enjoyed safely.

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. April 2013, 10(4): 316-322

Magdalena E. Kendall, Rajal K. Mody, Barbara E. Mahon, Michael P. Doyle, Karen M. Herman, and Robert V. Tauxe

Une mauvaise température de conservation, facteur-clé de l’intoxication alimentaire à Salmonella en 2008

Translated by Albert Amgar

Des piments ont été la cause première de l’intoxication alimentaire à Salmonella en 2008 avec plus de 1 500 personnes malades

Des salades de piments et de tomates, qui sont restées à température ambiante, ont pu rendre l’intoxication alimentaire plus importante

Après enquête sur l’intoxication alimentaire à Salmonella en 2008 qui a rendu malades plus de 1500 personnes en Amérique du Nord, le CDC a déterminé que les piments serrano ont été la source primaire de l’intoxication alimentaire. La souche de Salmonella correspondant à la souche épidémique a été retrouvée dans des échantillons d’eau prélevés à la ferme où les piments ont été cultivés. Les enquêteurs pensent que la salsa de tomate, qui contenait aussi les piments, a été conservée au-dessus de 5°C pendant plus de 4 heures et a ainsi augmenté le risque que des personnes soient malades. Les tomates en dés, en tranches ou en purée peuvent fournir un excellent environnement pour des bactéries comme Salmonella de se multiplier. Il s’agit d’une pratique usuelle mais il est risqué de maintenir la salade salsa et le guacamole à température ambiante pendant plus de 4 heures.

Un stockage adapté des produits à base de tomates peut réduire les risques.

Que vous pouvez faire :
– Réfrigérer les salades de tomates en dessous de 5°C.
– Éviter la contamination croisée entre aliments potentiellement contaminés et des salades de tomates servies à température ambiante
– Demander aux fournisseurs de respecter les bonnes pratiques agricoles.
Pour plus d’information contactez Ben Chapman, ou Doug Powell,


Control of contamination of fresh produce in guacamole and salsa starts on the farm

I was with this girl once in my younger days and we were driving north somewhere in Ontario. She had previously consumed a bunch of guacamole and a few beverages, and it wasn’t long before she was vomiting the most vile smelling guacamole barf.

I’ve never eaten the stuff again (although people in the current household like it, as seen in this nearly empty bowl of guacamole photographed in the most attractive manner I could, last night).

Sol noted yesterday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported nearly 1 out of every 25 restaurant-associated foodborne outbreaks with identified food sources between 1998 and 2008 can be traced back to contaminated salsa or guacamole, more than double the rate during the previous decade.

Improper storage and worker contamination accounted for half the outbreaks, but, as noted by one of the researchers,

"Salsa and guacamole often contain diced raw produce including hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, each of which has been implicated in past outbreaks."

That part was sorta downplayed in the press release, but it shouldn’t be. The great salmonella outbreak of 2008 involved jalapeno peppers arriving contaminated at restaurants.

Food safety starts on the farm.

Salsa and guacamole – yummy but risky?

I love Jimmy John’s veggie subs. I think the secret ingredient is in the guacamole spread-thingy. I avoid the sprouts though; not just because they’ve been linked to outbreaks, but I find they ruin the whole flavor chemistry.

It appears that now I might have reason to avoid the guacamole spread-thingy as well.

Research from the CDC shows that “nearly 1 out of every 25 restaurant-associated foodborne outbreaks with identified food sources between 1998 and 2008 can be traced back to contaminated salsa or guacamole.”

The risks might arise from big batches of the stuff being stored at improper temperatures, or contamination from mishandling the raw ingredients.

Next time I’m at Jimmy John’s, I’ll make sure I ask how their delicious guacamole is prepared and stored so as not to make any rash decisions about completely avoiding it.


Kansas woman pleads guilty to poisoning salsa at Lenexa restaurant

The United States Department of Justice announced yesterday that Yini De La Torre, 19, Shawnee, Kan., pleaded guilty to putting poison in salsa served to patrons at Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa, Kan.

She pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to tamper with a consumer product. In her plea, she admitted that while working as a waitress at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa she twice added Methomyl-based pesticide to salsa she prepared.

On Aug. 11, 2009, during the lunch rush, 12 diners at Mi Ranchito suffered nausea, abdominal cramps, weakness, sweating and chest discomfort after eating salsa. On Aug. 30, 2009, during dinner, approximately 36 patrons of Mi Ranchito suffered similar symptoms after eating salsa. Some of the customers were transported to the hospital. The poisoned patrons ranged from young children to senior citizens, some of whom suffered from medical conditions that were aggravated by the poison.

In her plea, De La Torre said her husband and co-defendant Arnoldo Bazan worked for a Mi Ranchito restaurant in Olathe until June 27, 2009. Bazan believed the owner of the Mi Ranchito chain was responsible for Bazan being suspended from employment and the theft of Bazan’s vehicle. Bazan hatched a plot with De La Torre to get even with the owner of the restaurant by poisoning the patrons of Mi Ranchito. During July 2009, the owner of the Mi Ranchito restaurant reported to the Overland Park Police Department that Bazan was stalking him. On Aug. 7, 2009, a message was sent to the restaurant’s Web site threatening harm if Bazan’s vehicle were not returned. On Aug. 28, 2009, before the second poisoning incident, Bazan sent word to the owner of the restaurant through a family member that “the worst is yet to come.”

While Lenexa police were investigating the poisoning, Bazan told Da La Torre not to speak with investigators or she would suffer physical harm. The Johnson County Health Department collected samples of food from the restaurant as well as blood and urine samples from the patrons who became ill. A Food and Drug Administration lab found Methomyl in the salsa. A laboratory at the University of California – Davis found Methomyl in the samples from the patrons.

Methomyl is a highly toxic compound introduced in 1966 as an insecticide for treatment of vegetable, fruit and field crops.

As a result of the poisoning incidents, all six Mi Ranchito restaurants suffered reduced income. The Mi Ranchito in Lenexa saw sales for September and October 2009 decline by approximately $250,000.

De La Torre is set for sentencing May 18, 2010. Bazan is awaiting trial.

It was the Methomy in the salsa: Kansas couple charged in mass poisonings

A couple who were upset at the owner of a Mexican restaurant were charged today with deliberately sickening dozens of patrons by spiking the salsa with an insecticide.

The Capital-Journal of Topeka (Kansas) reports today that Arnoldo Bazan, 30, and his wife  Yini De La Torre, 19, both of Shawnee (Kansas) and both in clear violation of the half-your-age-plus-7-rule for relationships, have been charged with mixing Methomyl into salsa served to patrons at Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa (Kansas),.

That’s good for one count of conspiring to recklessly endanger other people by conspiring to tamper with a consumer product and two counts of tampering with a consumer product.

U.S. Attorney Lanny Welch explained Thursday that Bazan was employed at a Mi Ranchito restaurant in Olathe until June 27. De La Torre was employed at the Mi Ranchito in Lenexa until Aug. 30.

The indictment alleges Bazan perceived the owner of Mi Ranchito restaurants was responsible for Bazan losing his job and his vehicle. Bazan and De La Torre devised a plan to use a Methomyl-based pesticide to poison patrons of the restaurant in hopes the owner of Mi Ranchito would be blamed and suffer financial harm.

In July, Bazan followed the owner of the Mi Ranchito restaurant, Welch said. An anonymous notice was sent to the Mi Ranchito Web site threatening harm if Bazan’s vehicle wasn’t returned. On Aug. 10, De La Torre is accused of placing Methomyl into the salsa at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa. On Aug. 11, 12 patrons immediately suffered nausea, abdominal cramps, weakness, sweating and discomfort.

On Aug. 28, Arnoldo Bazan sent word to the owner of Mi Ranchito by way of another person that "the worst" was yet to come, Welch said. On Aug. 30, De La Torre again placed Methomyl into salsa at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa. On that day, 36 patrons immediately suffered nausea, abdominal cramps, weakness, sweating and chest discomfort.

On Sept. 8, Bazan reportedly told De La Torre not to speak with law enforcement investigators or she would suffer physical harm.

Welch said the following agencies took part in the investigation: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Lenexa Police Department, the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Johnson County Health Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Rask is prosecuting.

Fresh salsa focus of Salmonella search

Elizabeth Weise writes in tomorrow’s USA Today that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked state and local health officials to focus their investigative efforts on items commonly used in the production of fresh salsa, particularly that made in local restaurants.

Salsas are typically made with tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, garlic and cilantro. They can also include tomatillos and other produce.

The focus does not involve commercially produced salsas. Salsas purchased in cans, jars or plastic containers in the refrigerated section of the supermarket are not being investigated. Fresh-made salsas only, prepared in the home or local restaurants, are the focus.

Tomatoes, originally considered the sole source of the outbreak, remain one of the targeted items, investigators say.

The Food and Drug Administration’s suggestion to avoid red round, Roma and plum tomatoes grown in certain areas is still in effect.

The latest figures for the outbreak are 887 sickened nationwide, with an additional 18 newly confirmed cases. At least 108 people were hospitalized.

Tom Nassif, president and chief executive of Western Growers, which represents produce producers in California and Arizona, said if the outbreak ends up not being associated with tomatoes, growers will have taken a tremendous hit for nothing, and if tomatoes are exonerated, Nassif says growers might ask for financial relief from Congress.

Bill Marler, one of the nation’s leading food-safety attorneys, said the FDA can’t be faulted for acting in the absence of a "smoking tomato" laced with the salmonella bacteria, stating, "Should they have waited until they knew exactly what it was? Well, whose side do they want to come down on: the side of public health and kids or the produce industry?"

I wrote something similar regarding the actions of Ontario government officials after the 1996 cyclospora outbreak (was it California strawberries, no it was Guatemalan raspberries) in the book, Risk and Regulation.

"Once epidemiology identifies a probable link, health officials have to decide whether it makes sense to warn the public. In retrospect, the decision seems straightforward, but there are several possibilities that must be weighed at the time. If the Ontario Ministry of Health decided to warn people that eating imported strawberries might be connected to Cyclospora infection, two outcomes were possible: if it turned out that strawberries are implicated, the ministry has made a smart decision, warning people against something that could hurt them; if strawberries were not implicated, then the ministry has made a bad decision with the result that strawberry growers and sellers will lose money and people will stop eating something that is good for them. If the ministry decides not to warn people, another two outcomes are possible: if strawberries were implicated, then the ministry has made a bad decision and people may get a parasitic infection they would have avoided had they been given the information (lawsuits usually follow); if strawberries were definitely not implicated then nothing happens, the industry does not suffer and the ministry does not get in trouble for not telling people."

I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.