State health officials are warning people not to eat onions from Thomson International, Inc., of Bakersfield, California, after 76 people in 13 Oregon counties fell ill with matching strains of salmonella bacteria. Eighteen of the cases have been hospitalized, and none have died.
Epidemiologists at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Public Health Division say the Oregon cases are part of an outbreak that has sickened more than 400 people in about 40 states as well as consumers in Canada. U.S. and Canadian public health officials implicated consumption of red onions; and the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) traced the onions to Thomson International, Inc. Although red onions are the likely source, Thomson will be recalling all varieties of onions that could have been cross-contaminated.
"People who believe they’ve gotten diarrhea from consuming red onions might want to contact a health care provider," said Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., an epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section. "However, most people with salmonellosis will recover without antibiotics."
People who have eaten red onions but not gotten sick do not need to seek or notify a health care provider.
"If you have any of these potentially contaminated onions, discard them and wash your hands afterwards," advised Dr. DeBess.
Each year, 400 to 500 cases of salmonellosis are reported in Oregon. Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps one to seven days after exposure. The illness usually lasts four to seven days.
Although most people recover without treatment, some have severe infections. Infants, elderly people and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop severe illness. Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and, in rare cases, can be deadly.
For information about the national Salmonella outbreak, visit https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/newport-07-20/index.html.
For information about the recall of onions, visit https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/outbreak-investigation-salmonella-newport-red-onions-july-2020.
For general information about Salmonella, visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/.