Enlarge/ Red onions have been fingered as the likely culprit.
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An outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to tainted onions has mushroomed in North America. So far, the outbreak has sickened 879 people, hospitalizing 114 across 43 US states and seven Canadian provinces.
The US Food and Drug Administration traced the outbreak back to red onions produced by Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, California. Thomson issued a recall of all of its onions August 1, covering red, yellow, white, and sweet bulbs that were shipped any time after May 1. But the outbreak numbers will likely continue to climb, given the potentially week-long period between eating a bad onion and developing symptoms, plus a typical two-to-four-week lag in case reporting.
The tainted onions were shipped to wholesalers, restaurants, and grocery stores across Canada as well as in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. Affected stores include Walmart, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Publix, Giant Eagle, Food Lion, and H-E-B. The onions were sold under 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 states affected by the Salmonella outbreak.
- Date of onset of symptoms in cases that have been reported so far. Case reporting lags by 2 to 4 weeks.
In addition to whole onions, a number of deli items, mixed salads, and ready-to-eat products have also been recalled. The recall list continues to grow. See the FDAs website for the latest information.
Officials in both Canada and the United States advise all consumers that, if you dont know whether an onion or onion-containing food is affected by the recalls, throw it away and wash your hands. Even if you plan to thoroughly cook your onions, they still pose a risk because they can spread infectious bacteria to other foods and kitchen items before you cook them.
Though Salmonella infections are usually not life-threateningthere have been no deaths in this outbreak so farthey are still unpleasant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms tend to 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 a headache. The symptoms usually last four to seven days.
In some cases, the bacteria can spread from the intestines into the blood, causing more serious infections. Those at higher risk for severe cases are children under age 5, adults over age 65, and people with compromised immune systems.
Salmonella happily inhabit the intestines and move from one victim to the next via the stomach-churning fecal-oral route. Produce and other foods are often contaminated by animal waste. As such, contaminated beef, poultry, milk, and eggs are common culprits in such outbreaks. But the CDC notes that any food product and even non-foods can become contaminated. Past poopy perpetrators of Salmonella outbreaks have included tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, cantaloupe, pet turtles, backyard chicks, iguanas, and owl pellets.
The CDC estimates that Salmonella causes 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths each year in the US. Nearly all of those cases are due to contaminated food. In the current onion-linked outbreak, the CDC reports 640 cases and 85 hospitalizations. Of those, 244 cases were reported between July 31 and August 7.