506 people affected by Salmonella outbreak linked to U.S. onions, PHAC says

The Public Health Agency of Canada said it is investigating a Salmonella outbreak involving red onions imported from the United States that have affected 506 people so far and killed one.

A statement released this week said 49 more people had fallen ill since Aug. 31, but people began reporting getting sick in mid-June. Seventy-one people have been hospitalized due to the outbreak so far.

So far, PHAC said its investigation found 116 illnesses in British Columbia, 292 in Alberta, 34 in Saskatchewan, 25 in Manitoba, 14 in Ontario, 24 in Quebec and one in Prince Edward Island.

Officials said there was “no evidence to suggest that onions grown in Canada” were associated with the outbreak.

The officials urged those living in Canada to avoid eating, using, selling or serving red, white, yellow, and sweet yellow onions from Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, Calif., “or any products made with these onions.”

“This advice applies to all individuals across Canada, as well as retailers, distributors, manufacturers and food-service establishments such as hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, hospitals and nursing homes,” the release said.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam reiterated those statements on Tuesday, and said Health Canada was assessing how high the risk level was to residents.

“If you don’t know where your onions came from, you should discard them,” she said, adding that several public health notices had gone out to Canadians regarding the Salmonella outbreak.

On July 30, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a food recall warning for the onions and “related” products exported to Canada.

In the warning, the agency said the outbreak was linked to a smattering of Salmonella Newport cases being investigated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that had a “similar genetic fingerprint to illnesses reported in Canada.”

“Investigators in Canada and the U.S. continue to collaborate to exchange information and identify commonalities in the outbreak information that may identify additional sources of illness or help to identify the cause of contamination in the red onions,” the agency said.

According to the PHAC, Salmonella is a common infection that occurs between six and 72 hours after a person has been exposed to bacteria from “an infected animal, person or contaminated product.”

Symptoms typically last between four and seven days, and can include fever, chills, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches and abdominal cramps.

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