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Foodborne Illness

July 16, 2010

Death by Salsa??? 

You just drop your chip?  Yep, I bet you did.  I had the same response after reading an article forwarded to me by one of my fellow Foodies off MSNBC called "Guacamole, salsa linked to food poisoning".  As my eyes drifted down the article, grabbing each tasty, and poisonous little statistic, eating, my favorite past time aside from writing, rooting for the Red Sox and Mets and, of course, food inspections, started to sound like wasn't such a great idea.  Yep, as my mind chewed on the words "nearly 1 out of 25 foodborne illness outbreaks (are) caused by tainted dips", my happy hippocampus instantly beamed back to my favorite Mexican place by my apartment in New York City.  Yes, the place was a total dive, no self-respecting health inspector should have patronized the place, but it had a great sidewalk patio, good people watching, cheap and tasty drinks and... the salsa was downright amazing.  Thinking back at how many times, my friend and I blamed the 'just-one-more' flavored margarita, or the sushi place down the street for our stomach ailments, I now wonder if it wasn't the cantina salsa.

So... putting my health inspector hat back on and my personal quips aside, it doesn't surprise me at all that salsa can cause foodborne illness.  Everyone has heard of the outbreaks associated with produce in the past few years-- tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, all the fabulous ingredients in America's new favorite condiment, and while we're sucking it up faster than ketchup, we shouldn't be treating it like our favorite bottle of Heinz.  About 30% of the 136 outbreaks associated with salsa between 1984 and 1997 were attributed to Time and Temperature abuse while 18% were caused by norovirus, a virus commonly associated with poor handling and hygiene. 

How do we avoid having our cantina experience ruined by foodborne illness?  Easy.  We must keep fresh salsa refrigerated and in temperature on condiment bars and not leave it out on tables.  It should be prepped quickly and in small manageable batches that can be kept in temperature, and of course, we must be getting all of our produce from reputable sources and washing it well before use.  If we don't, one small abuse can become a big problem. 

While this means we need to be cautious and treat salsa as a potentially hazardous food, it doesn't mean we have to give up our favorite condiment.  So yes, go ahead a pick that chip back up, dredge deeply into that nice cold tomatoey goodness-- and, if no one at your table is looking, double-dip. 

Temperature/Time; Foodborne Illness
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