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  1. Sampling to Protect the Food Supply

Microbiological Surveillance Sampling: FY21-22 Sample Collection and Analysis of Domestic Refrigerated RTE Dips and Spreads

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Gourmet Dips and Spreads

In 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a routine assignment to collect domestic multi-commodity ready-to-eat (RTE) refrigerated dips and spreads to test for Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella spp. The agency’s goal in conducting this assignment was to determine the presence of these pathogens in RTE dips and spreads and remove adulterated product from the market, when possible. This sampling assignment started in early March 2021 and sample collection and analysis completed in January 2022.

This assignment is part of the FDA’s risk-based approach to food safety, as outlined in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The agency is reviewing this assignment’s findings to identify common factors or patterns (e.g., origin, variety, manufacturing practices) related to the contamination of RTE dips and spreads, when possible. This data will help FDA develop guidance and update program priorities, including sampling assignments and the prioritization of surveillance inspections.


Refrigerated dips and spreads is a broad and growing category of food that encompasses a diverse range of products including hummus, tahini, pimento cheese, and yogurt-based products. A “dip” is thinner in consistency and another piece of food (e.g., chip, vegetable) is submerged into it, such as salsa. A “spread” is food that is spreadable, usually with a knife, onto other foods (e.g., bread, crackers), such as pimento cheese.

Many Americans purchase refrigerated RTE dips and spreads for quick and nutritious snacks. In response to consumers’ lifestyles and preferences, dips and spreads manufacturers have created on-the-go and portion control packaging.[1] In 2020, 191.14 million Americans used dips as snacks.[2] As the popularity of plant-based diets continues to grow, so does the consumer demand for RTE dips and spreads. U.S. refrigerated plant-based dip annual sales increased from about three million dollars in April 2016 to about 11 million dollars in April 2019.[3]

RTE foods can become contaminated through environmental pathogens (i.e., harborage and cross-contamination within the food manufacturing environment/process) or contaminated ingredients (i.e., during or after processing). Dips and spreads may have pH and water activity that make it easy for bacteria to survive and grow, if present. Consumers typically eat these dips and spreads without a ‘kill step,’[4] such as cooking, to reduce or eliminate any pathogenic bacteria that may be present. As such, dips and spreads contaminated with L. monocytogenes or Salmonella can present a significant public health risk and have been associated with multiple recalls over the past few years. This assignment was established due to the five recalls of hummus products and six recalls of multi-commodity dips due to contamination with L. monocytogenes or Salmonella from FY2017 through FY2020.

[1] U.S. Refrigerated Spreads and Dips - Statistics & Facts | Statista

[2] U.S.: usage of dips for snacks and vegetables 2020 | Statista

[3] Plant-based dips retail sales U.S. 2019 | Statista

[4] The step where pathogens (e.g., Salmonella) are reduced or removed from a food product, usually by killing the pathogen. Executing a ‘kill step’ (e.g., cooking, frying, pasteurization) drastically reduces pathogens in food.

[5] A culture of microorganisms isolated for study


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