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Holy Guacamole There are probably ten Mexican restaurants within two miles of my house.

And you've probably tried most of them!

I have! I can't resist the bottomless chips and salsa and, I'm a big fan of guacamole.

Well, eat cautiously because salsa and guacamole are now leading causes of food poisoning!

What?! That's a bummer!

The Centers for Disease Control has even created a new category called SGA for salsa and guacamole associated outbreaks. One out of 25 food borne illness outbreaks are SGA's and most lead back to restaurants.

Salsa and guacamole are made from uncooked ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, avocados and cilantro. If any of these ingredients are contaminated, then improper handling will allow the contaminating viruses to survive or the bacteria to reproduce.

Even a small number of the contaminating bacteria can multiply to large numbers if the food isn't refrigerated. Improper refrigeration methods account for 30 percent of SGA outbreaks.

Even if the ingredients in salsa and guacamole are not contaminated, they can be, by cross-contamination. Pathogens can be transferred when kitchen workers don't wash their hands; when cutting boards or knives used for raw meat are not sanitized before they're used to cut vegetables; and the same goes for containers and various kitchen appliances.

The offending pathogens could be bacteria, like salmonella, viruses, such as hepatitis-A, and parasites like trichinosis. In fact, more than two hundred known diseases are transmitted through food, causing a range of symptoms from a mild upset stomach to organ failure.

In the US, food-borne illnesses cause about nine thousand deaths and make about 81 million people sick every year.

So, stick with restaurants you know or do what I do, cook more at home.

Juice of 1/2 an orange
Juice of a lime
2 Avocadoes
4 tbs diced Roma tomatoes
2 Serrano peppers
2 tbs diced red or yellow onions
2 tsp chopped cilantro
Add sea salt, cumin and chili powder to taste

Wash the tomatoes, peppers and the cilantro well.

Roast the tomatoes and the Serrano peppers under a hot boiler to the point at which the skins are somewhat blackened.

From here on out, it is advisable to wear thin plastic gloves when handling the peppers. They will protect you from transferring the capsaicin (the chemical that makes peppers hot) to your hands and later to sensitive parts of the body like your eyes.

Peel the skin from both the tomatoes and the peppers. Then remove the seeds from the peppers. Use paper towels to dry the peppers and the tomatoes.

Dice and then drain the tomatoes.

Dice the peppers.

Remove the seeds from the avocadoes and scrape out the meat. Using a potato masher or fork, mash the avocado to the desired consistency. Add in the diced tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro and mix well. Adjust seasoning with sea salt, cumin and chili powder to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and protect from air by pushing the plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the dip and eliminating as much air as possible and keep refrigerated until serving. Can make the day before, but for longer term storage vacuum sealing is required.

For more information…

Established in 1946, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is one of the key operating divisions of HHS, providing a system of health surveillance to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks, implement disease prevention strategies, and maintain national health statistics. The CDC brings up-to-date resources to the public to enhance positive health decisions made every day. The CDC has a page devoted to food poisoning with many links to additional information. The CDC issued a news release about guacamole and salsa food poisoning.

MedlinePlus is one of the best sources of health information on the web and they have an excellent page with extensive linka about food poisoning here.

WebMD has is an organization that provides health information on the Internet. They provide credible information, supportive communities, and in-depth reference material about health subjects that matter to you. They are a source for original and timely health information as well as material from well known content providers including information about guacamole and food poisoning.

Marler Clark presents Food Safety News as a daily Web-based newspaper dedicated to reporting on issues surrounding food safety. It has a goal of putting as much available food safety information in one place as is possible. They provide timely reporting on food safety issues with contributed articles from food safety leaders and feeds from government, food industry, and other food safety authorities. The page on guacamole can be read here.