Thompson International Inc, a California-based onion producer, has been identified as likely causing 396 cases of salmonella in the U.S., and 114 cases in Canada. Although the outbreak is mostly restricted to the western parts of both countries, the onions were recalled across all 50 states and Washington D.C.
So far, 59 cases have required hospitalizations, but there have been no reported deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control website advises you to “check your refrigerator and kitchen for recalled onions or foods made with them, such as salads, wraps, tacos, sandwiches, etc.”
It also recommends you “wash and sanitize any surfaces that may have come in contact with onions or their packaging.”
Originally only red onions were recalled by Thompson, but because of cross-contamination risk, the company’s expanded recall includes yellow, white, and sweet yellow onions. Top retailers Kroger, Walmart, and Food Lion are affected, along with smaller chains and restaurants. Walmart released a list of stores that contained the recalled produce.
Kroger and Food Lion sold the onions under their brand names, with other affected labels including Thomson Premium, TLC Thomson International, Tender Loving Care, El Competidor, Hartley’s Best, Onions 52, Majestic, Imperial Fresh, and Utah Onions.
If onions are unlabeled or unaccompanied by information about their origin, the Food and Drug Administration and CDC recommend consumers, retailers, and restaurants throw them out.
The FDA has not found the specific cause of the salmonella contamination or specific shipments of onions that were contaminated, but an investigation is still ongoing.
In past cases, finding the exact source of salmonella contamination, even with tracing to a specific product from a single company, was impossible. However, like the case of the salmonella contamination of peanut butter in 2009, it can sometimes be attributable to poor health and safety standards.
In the peanut butter case, inspectors found “roaches, rats, mold, dirt, accumulated grease, and bird droppings” in a processing facility, ultimately leading to a 28-year sentence for the CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America.
Salmonella bacteria are usually found in the intestines of humans and animals but can persist in nature. They spread to vegetables through contaminated manure, water, or contact with other contaminated plants during harvesting or preparation.
Salmonellosis (the disease caused by infection by pathogenic salmonella) can cause anything from relatively mild symptoms like diarrhea, fever, nausea, and stomach cramps, to potentially deadly typhoid fever. According to the CDC, these symptoms usually last 4-7 days and start between 6 hours to 6 days of infection.
However, the CDC sequenced this specific outbreak’s genome, and the results “did not predict any antibiotic resistance,” although further testing is taking place.