More than a month after the first case was reported, and bad onions were pinpointed as the source, federal health officials in the U.S. announced a salmonella outbreak that started on June 19.
So far, the outbreak has infected 879 people and 114 were hospitalized across 43 U.S. states and 7 Canadian provinces, cases are expected to rise.
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After the first spate of illnesses, the infections were traced back to tainted onions from the food seller Thomson International, Inc. On August 1, the company recalled all varieties of onions that could have come in contact with their contaminated red onions due to the risk of cross-contamination.
As Ars Technica reports, the bad onions were shipped to restaurants, wholesalers, and grocery stores across Canada and the U.S., so it is likely that cases will continue to rise as these establishments also have to deal with cross-contamination of other produce. Affected stores include Walmart, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Publix, Giant Eagle, Food Lion, and H-E-B.
Another reason that may contribute to the rising of the cases is tied to the fact that salmonella symptoms usually take about a week to develop after eating the contaminated food and illnesses of this nature usually aren't reported straight away.
Aside from the onions, a number of other items have been recently added to the recall list, including deli items and mixed salads. The most up-to-date information can be found on the FDA's website.
Officials in Canada and the United States have advised consumers not to take the risk if they are unsure whether their food is contaminated — if unsure, the best bet is to throw the food away and wash your hands. Even if you mean to thoroughly cook the onions, they still pose a risk as they can infect other items in the kitchen.
Thankfully, the majority of salmonella infections are not life-threatening and most people recover without treatment. In the current outbreak, no deaths have been reported.
The disease, however, is incredibly unpleasant: symptoms, which tend to last four to seven days, include stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea, which can be bloody. Children under the age of 5, adults over age 65, and people with compromised immune systems are more at risk of developing severe symptoms, which can be fatal.
The CDC estimates that salmonella causes 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths each year in the U.S., almost all of which are caused by contaminated food.