Enlarge /. Red onions were fingered as the likely culprit.
An outbreak of salmonella infections related to spoiled onions has occurred in North America. So far, the outbreak has sickened 879 people and has hospitalized 114 in 43 US states and seven Canadian provinces.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration attributed the outbreak to red onions made by Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, California. Thomson issued a recall on all of its onions on Aug. 1, covering red, yellow, white, and sweet onions that were shipped anytime after May 1st. However, given the potentially week-long lapse of time between meals, outbreak numbers are likely to keep rising with bad onion and developing symptoms, as well as a typical two to four week delay in reporting.
The spoiled onions were shipped to wholesalers, restaurants, and grocery stores across Canada, as well as in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Affected stores are Walmart, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Publix, Riesenadler, Food Lion and H-E-B. The onions were sold under the brand names Thomson Premium, TLC Thomson International, Tender Loving Care, El Competitor, Hartleys Best, Onions 52, Majestic, Imperial Fresh, Kroger, Utah Onions and Food Lion.
Map of the states affected by the salmonella outbreak.
Date of onset of symptoms in previously reported cases. Case reporting will be delayed by 2 to 4 weeks.
In addition to whole onions, a number of delicacies, mixed salads and ready-to-eat products have also been recalled. The recall list continues to grow. Please see the FDA website for the latest information.
Officials in Canada and the United States are cautioning all consumers that if you are unsure whether an onion or food containing onion has been affected by the recalls, throw it away and wash your hands. Even if you plan to cook your onions thoroughly, they still pose a risk as they can spread infectious bacteria to other foods and kitchen items before you cook them.
Although salmonella infections are usually not life-threatening – there have been no deaths from this outbreak – they are still uncomfortable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms usually develop between six hours and six days after infection and usually include stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea, which can be bloody. Some people also develop nausea, vomiting, or headaches. Symptoms usually last four to seven days.
In some cases, the bacteria can spread from the intestines into the blood and cause more serious infections. People at higher risk for severe cases are children under 5 years of age, adults over 65 years of age, and people with weakened immune systems.
Salmonella happily inhabit the intestines and move from victim to victim by the gastro-vertebral fecal-oral route. Products and other food are often contaminated with animal waste. Contaminated beef, poultry, milk, and eggs are therefore common culprits in such outbreaks. However, the CDC notes that any food product and even non-food can be contaminated. Previous perpetrators of salmonella outbreaks have included tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, melons, pet turtles, backyard chicks, iguanas, and owl pellets.
The CDC estimates that salmonella causes 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospital admissions, and 420 deaths in the United States each year. Almost all of these cases are due to contaminated food. In the current onion-related outbreak, the CDC reports 640 cases and 85 hospitalizations. Of these, 244 cases were reported between July 31 and August 7.