A class-action lawsuit is moving ahead after more than 500 Canadians fell ill after eating red onions that were possibly contaminated with salmonella. The lawsuit was filed by two Alberta-based law firms late last week.
Rick Mallett, head of class-action lawsuits at James H. Brown and Associates, called it the largest recall of contaminated onions ever. He said the latest numbers indicate there is a concentration of cases in western Canada. That includes 293 cases in Alberta, 121 in British Columbia and the rest in Manitoba.
Mallett is representing the group, which he said is growing every day.
"There's a number of people that are identified by the [testing] but that's never everybody," Mallett said.
"Not everybody knows about it, not everybody gets tested. So it's typically two or three times the actual number that are identified, so probably two or three times that 515, that are actually affected across the country."
In August, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) identified Thomson International Inc. out of Bakersfield, Calif. as the source of the possibly contaminated onions. On Oct. 1, the CFIA declared the outbreak over.
Mallett said the next step after Thompson is served will be to have the suit assigned to a case management judge and to then get the case certified as a class action. He estimates it could take one to two years for the case to work its way through the court system.
Class-action lawsuits can be an important way to hold corporations accountable, Mallett said.
"In a case like this we can do a lot to ensure that the food chain is safe," he said. "It's such a huge concern for Canadians and Americans too."
"It can really bring justice to individual people where you could just not afford to do a case on your own. If you can get together with a class or a group it gives you a real strength."
He added this is especially true when people are left with potentially long-term health impacts.
Sydonni Allridge, a 31-year-old student from Sherwood Park, began to feel ill in early August. She was dealing with nausea and other stomach-related issues on a daily basis.
"I didn't understand what was going on for a while," Allridge said. "Eventually I went to the hospital and I had to do [a round of tests] and I found out I had salmonella poisoning."
While in the hospital in August, she was contacted by the CFIA who were able to trace her illness back to onions from a fast food restaurant in Sherwood Park. Allridge says the place was a regular stop for her at that time and she was ordering the same item, with onions, each visit.
She has had multiple rounds of antibiotics since then, but said she continues to feel ill.
Allridge said she was given a second round of a stronger antibiotic, but is continuing to work with doctors toward a full recovery.
She was alerted to the recall situation and potential class-action lawsuit by her father. She said the ongoing situation has impacted her ability to live her life normally.
"I couldn't really go out anywhere," she said. "I always had to use the bathroom or my stomach was just really hurting or I was vomiting. It was really a struggle."
The CFIA has encouraged Canadians to throw out or return recalled onions they may have in their homes.