FDA releases report on contamination in refrigerated dips and spreads

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released the results of a recent sampling assignment that focused on refrigerated ready-to-eat (RTE) dips and spreads. Conducted from March 2021 to Jan. 2022, this assignment aimed to assess the presence of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes in these food products.

Refrigerated dips and spreads encompass a broad range of food products, including hummus, tahini, pimento cheese and yogurt-based items. Dips involve submerging a piece of food, such as a chip or vegetable, into a thinner consistency mixture, like salsa. On the other hand, spreads are typically applied with a knife onto other foods, like bread or crackers. 

RTE foods can become contaminated through environmental pathogens or contaminated ingredients, making dips and spreads susceptible to bacterial growth if present. As people typically consume these products without a “kill step” like cooking, the presence of Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella poses a significant public health risk, according to the FDA.

The presence of Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella in dips and spreads poses significant risks to public health, leading to multiple recalls in recent years. Between 2017 and 2020, there were five hummus product recalls and six multi-commodity dip recalls because of contamination by these pathogens.

During the testing program, the FDA collected and tested a total of 747 samples of refrigerated RTE dips and spreads. These samples contained various ingredients, including sesame, vegetables, cheese and seafood. Among the samples, the FDA detected Salmonella in one hummus sample and Listeria monocytogenes in three samples of dip and cheese spread. The FDA worked closely with the manufacturers to promptly remove the contaminated products from the market.

Hummus and cheese dips and spreads accounted for 64 percent of these recalls, with 10 hummus recalls and four cheese dip and spread recalls.

The FDA is now reviewing the assignment’s findings to identify common factors or patterns associated with the contamination of RTE dips and spreads. This analysis will help the FDA develop guidance and adjust program priorities, including future sampling assignments and surveillance inspections.

Given the potential for contamination, the FDA advises consumers to promptly refrigerate or freeze refrigerated RTE dips and spreads to reduce the risk of pathogen growth. Once thawed, frozen RTE dips or spreads should not be refrozen. Consumers should carefully read and follow the package instructions for proper use and storage. When serving RTE dips and spreads on a buffet, it is essential to maintain cold foods at or below 40 degrees F and hot foods at or above 140 degrees F to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses. Cold foods can be kept cold during serving by placing shallow containers within a pan filled with ice, while hot foods can be maintained at suitable temperatures using chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers.

The full FDA report can be found here.

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