28th September 2021

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Salmonella Infection

Onions have become a concern in the United States and Canada. Over the past week, health agencies in both countries issued alerts asking their citizens to dispose of the onions provided by California-based Thomson International Inc, linking an infection with the salmonella bacteria to the bulb. What is this infection and how is it transmitted through onions? We explain:

What is salmonellosis?

  • Salmonella bacteria reside in animals. When it enters the human body, it causes salmonellosis, an infection that attacks the intestine and can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, bleeding in the stool, and nausea.
  • Symptoms of infection last 2 to 7 days. However, sometimes it can take months for bowel function to return to normal. In some cases, the infection spreads from the intestine to the bloodstream.
  • The infection affects children under the age of five and the elderly, the worst. The good news is that less than 1% of those infected die from the infection.
  • Salmonella can be transmitted to humans through contaminated food or water. In this case, the bacteria were transmitted through contaminated onions, grown by Thomson International.

How widespread is the infection?

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported on August 1, 2020 that Thomson International had recalled red, yellow, white and sweet yellow onions shipped since May 1. In Canada and parts of Colombia. Some of the big chains included Walmart and Kroger.
  • Thomson International said the onions were sold in mesh bags and cartons. They were also part of a multi-ingredient food product, making it difficult to assess contaminated packaging.
  • Initially, only red onions were suspected of being infected, but, fearing cross infection with other varieties, the company recalled the entire product from California.
  • In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that there were 640 cases in 43 states as of August 6, 2020.
  • The maximum cases were recorded in Utah (90), Oregon (85) and California (76). At least 85 people have been hospitalized, but there have been no deaths.
  • In Canada, the Public Health Agency has reported 239 confirmed cases. People reported being ill between mid-June and July. At least 29 people have had to be hospitalized in the country, its public health agency reported.

Salmonellosis epidemic: what measures have been taken?

  • The Canadian government issued an advisory to restaurants, retailers, hotels and the general public, which read; “Do not eat, use, sell or serve yellow, red, yellow, white and sweet onions grown by Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, California, United States or any product made with these onions.”
  • In the United States, the CDC has advised people to throw away onions if they don’t know where they are grown. He asked restaurants, hotels and retailers to ensure that onions were not served with the brand label attached to Thomson International.
  • The US Food Safety and Infection Service noted; “FSIS is concerned that some products may be in consumers’ refrigerators.
  • Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products must be discarded or returned to the place of purchase.”

What is Thomson International?

  • The company grows, packages and supplies onions, cabbages, watermelons and peppers to retailers, wholesalers and foodservice operators in North America.
  • It also exports to other countries. Most of their farmland is in Bakerfield, California, and Mexico.
  • Thomson uses a variety of hybrid seeds and plants to grow its products.
  • The company’s products are sold under different brand names: Thomson Premium, TLC Thomson International, Tender Loving Care, El Competitor, Hartley’s Best, Onions 52, Majestic, Imperial Fresh, Kroger, Utah Onions and Food Lion.

And now that?

  • Infections are expected to continue to increase. Symptoms take one to six days to appear. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the US CDC and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are investigating common ground to identify the source and cause of onion contamination.
  • The US FDA said: “The investigation is ongoing and more information will be provided as it becomes available.”
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