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Recalled onions behind massive salmonella outbreak

Updated 08/13/20: with new details.

The coronavirus pandemic is still raging on, months after the outbreak began. And depending on which part of the country you live in, things are worse now than ever.

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With the pandemic continuing to make headlines, you might have missed hearing about a mysterious salmonella outbreak that began a few weeks ago. The CDC wasn’t able to pinpoint where it was coming from or how it was spreading so quickly. The good news is we now know the source and what you need to avoid.

Hold the onion please

A new outbreak of the salmonella strain — known as Salmonella Newport — was identified by the CDC on July 10 and over the last few weeks, the total number of cases included in the outbreak has been growing. What initially started as 13 infections in three states has rapidly grown to infections in 43 states in the U.S. and 7 Canadian provinces.

You may also like: Did you fall for this fake CDC alert?

We now know what caused this rapidly spreading salmonella outbreak: onions. So far nearly 900 people in North America have been infected and the number is still growing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the outbreak began with red onions produced by Thomson International Inc. of California. The company issued a recall covering all of the onions it produces including red, white, yellow and sweet bulbs that shipped any time after May 1, 2020.

Thomson International ships onions to major grocery chains in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Some of the stores with potentially affected onions include Walmart, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Publix, Food Lion, H-E-B and Giant Eagle.

The FDA said, “Consumers, restaurants, and retailers should not eat, sell, or serve recalled onions from Thomson International, Inc. or products containing recalled onions. If you cannot tell if your onion is part of the recall, or your food product contains recalled onions, you should not eat, sell, or serve it, and should throw it out.”

For a complete list from the FDA of potentially tainted products and locations that may have them click here.

How to report symptoms of salmonella or another food-borne illness

It’s important to report any symptoms or confirmed cases of food-borne illnesses to your doctor and your local health department so that the CDC can continue to gather the scientific evidence it needs to stop the outbreak.

If you receive a call from your health department, you should be prepared to answer questions about your illness and the foods you ate before you got sick.

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include:

  • Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps six hours to six days after being exposed to the bacteria.
  • The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.
  • In some people, the illness may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body.
  • Children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years and older, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.
  • For more information, see Symptoms of Salmonella Infection.

Per the CDC, you should take the following actions if you have symptoms of a salmonella infection:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider.
  • Write down what you ate in the week before you started to get sick.
  • Report your illness to your local health department.
    • The health department will likely call you for an interview to ask you about the foods you ate in the week before you got sick.
  • Assist public health investigators by answering their questions when they contact you. This information could help identify the source of the outbreak and prevent other people from getting sick.

State and local public health officials are currently interviewing ill people to determine what they ate and other exposures in the week before their illness started. The CDC is encouraging people to participate who have had salmonella illness in recent weeks to participate in these interviews.

This information is vital because public health officials will use it to identify the source of the outbreak and also take steps to prevent additional illnesses from occurring.

The CDC also advises consumers to follow these four steps to help prevent salmonella infection:

  • Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often, and wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting or peeling.
  • Separate: Keep food that won’t be cooked before it is eaten, such as fresh fruit, salads and deli meats, away from raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Cook: To a temperature high enough to kill germs’ external icon.
  • Chill: Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours; one hour if it’s 90°F or hotter outside.

More information is available on the CDC Food Safety website. For more information, visit the CDC page with information on the current outbreak.

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