Salsa-associated outbreaks, including the large multistate outbreak in the United States in 2008 caused by jalapeño and serrano peppers contaminated with Salmonella Saintpaul, have raised concerns about salsa as a potential vehicle for transmission. Despite these events, there has been relatively limited research on the potential growth of pathogenic bacteria in salsa. The aim of this study was to characterize the survival and growth of Salmonella, including the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul (E2003001236), in freshly made salsa and its main ingredients. Chopped tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and onions were tested individually or mixed according to different salsa recipes. Samples were inoculated with five Salmonella serotypes at 3 log CFU/g: Saintpaul (various strains), Typhimurium, Montevideo, Newport, or Enteritidis. Samples were then stored at room temperature (23°C) for up to 12 h or 3 days. The Salmonella Saintpaul levels reached approximately 9 log CFU/g after 2 days in tomato, jalapeño pepper, and cilantro. Growth was slower in onions, reaching 6 log CFU/g by day 3. Salsa recipes, with or without lime juice, supported the growth of Salmonella Saintpaul, and final levels were approximately 7 log CFU/g after 3 days at 23°C. In contrast, the counts of Salmonella Typhimurium, Salmonella Montevideo, Salmonella Newport, and Salmonella Enteritidis increased only 2 log CFU/g after 3 days in any of the salsas. Other Salmonella Saintpaul strains were able to grow in salsas containing 10% lime juice, but their final levels were less than 5 log CFU/g. These findings indicate the enhanced ability of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak strain to grow in salsa compared with other Salmonella strains. Recipe modifications including but not limited to adding lime juice (at least 10%) and keeping fresh salsa at room temperature for less than 12 h before consumption are strategies that can help mitigate the growth of Salmonella in salsa.

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