What to know about the salmonella outbreak linked to red onions

Elianna Lev
·3 min read
A cook cuts red onions on a wooden cutting board. (Getty)
A cook cuts red onions on a wooden cutting board. (Getty)

Canadians are being advised to avoid consuming onions if they aren’t sure where they originally came from.

An investigation continues into the outbreak of illnesses linked to red onions contaminated with Salmonella, product which originally came from the United States. Since mid-June, there have been a total of 457 cases of Salmonella in Canada linked to contaminated onions, 78 of those illnesses reported since August 21. One person has died, but it’s not known whether Salmonella is the cause of death. Many of the individuals had reported eating red onions at home, in menu items ordered at restaurants and in residential care settings, prior to getting sick.

It is possible that a recent spike in the number of illnesses may be reported in the outbreak because of the time between when a person became sick to when they reported the illness to public health officials. For this outbreak, the illness reporting period is between two and four weeks.

Who is at risk of infection?

Salmonella can infect anyone, but it is particularly dangerous for children aged five years and under, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. Most people will recover in a few days. It’s possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria but not experience any symptoms. However, they can still spread the infection to others.

Which onions to avoid

The Public Health Agency of Canada is urging Canadians not to eat, use or serve any red, white, yellow and sweet yellow onions from the company Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, California, USA, or any products made with these onions. This advice also applies to retailers, distributors, manufacturers and food service establishments such as hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, hospitals and nursing homes. If you aren’t sure where an onion is grown, it’s advised to throw it out.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued food recall warnings for related products that were distributed across Canada.

How to stay safe

Check your home for red, white, yellow, and sweet varieties, including whole, sliced, or chopped onions, and any prepared foods that contain onions as an ingredient, such as pre-made salads, sandwiches, wraps, salsas, dips or guacamole. These products could have been bought from a grocery store or convenience store, ordered in a salad or other food item from a restaurant.

If you have a recalled food product, throw it out. After you do, be sure to wash your hands.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a Salmonella infection, do not cook food for other people.

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection

A Salmonella infection, which is called salmonellosis, typically starts six to 72 hours after exposure to Salmonella bacteria from an infected animal, person or contaminated product.

Symptoms include:

  • fever

  • chills

  • diarrhea

  • abdominal cramps

  • headache

  • nausea

  • vomiting

These symptoms can last between four to seven days. In healthy people, salmonellosis clears up without treatment, though antibiotics may be prescribed. Hospitalization is needed in some severe cases. Those who are infected can be infectious for between several days up to several weeks.