Salmonella outbreak linked to onions

Stephanie Smith

On Sept. 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified a Salmonella Oranienburg outbreak which had initially caused 20 infections. As of Oct. 29, 808 people are known to have been infected and 157 people have been hospitalized, although the number of people infected is likely to be much higher because of under-reporting of foodborne illnesses.

Epidemiologic and traceback investigations showed that the outbreak was caused by whole, fresh onions resulting in a recall of the onions and associated products. According to the CDC, all recalled onions were supplied by ProSource Produce LLC and Keeler Family Farms, and sold to wholesalers, foodservice customers, and retail stores, including WinCo. Additionally, the onions were included in meals sold by Hello Fresh and Every Plate. The onions were identified as having been imported from the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, between July 1 and Aug. 31.

Most people infected with salmonella will experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps as many as six days after becoming infected, although some individuals may not experience illness until weeks after becoming infected. Although most people will recover without treatment within four to seven days, children younger than 5, adults 65 years and older, and people with weakened immune systems, such as those with auto-immune diseases, undergoing cancer treatments, or have HIV, may experience more severe illnesses that could result in hospitalization. In more severe cases, infected individuals can have disseminated infection in their urine, blood, bones, joints or their nervous system. Additionally, some people who have been infected with salmonella will develop reactive arthritis, which can last for months or years and can be difficult to treat.

It can often be difficult to tell if an onion in your pantry is affected by this recall. Moreover, since onions have a long shelf life, it is possible that contaminated onions may still be in people’s homes. The CDC is recommending that onions be thrown away if the source of the onions cannot be identified. It is also important to wash surfaces in hot soapy water, or in your dishwasher, if they have been in contact with unidentified onions. Ultimately, cooking onions to 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill any salmonella contamination, and it is probably a good idea to avoid eating raw onions, unless you are confident of the sources, until the outbreak has been resolved.

As of Nov. 7, the CDC is actively investigating 21 salmonella outbreaks across the country from onions, seafood and salami sticks. These outbreaks are in addition to other outbreaks this year which have included chicken and turkey products, Italian style meats, cashew brie and prepackaged salads. Given this, it is important to always practice safe food handling at home. The CDC recommends following these four steps to prevent Salmonella infection:

CleanWash hands with soap and clean, running water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot, soapy water, especially after being in contact with raw or undercooked eggs, meats, poultry, seafood or their juices. Never wash raw eggs, meats, poultry or seafood before cooking as this can spread germs to other surfaces.

SeparateKeep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods in your grocery cart and in your refrigerator. Always keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods, such as salads and deli meat. Separate cutting boards and dishes should be used for produce and for raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw foods.

CookUse a food thermometer to check that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145 degrees for whole cuts of beef, pork, ham, veal, and lamb and seafood; 160 for ground beef, ground pork, ground veal and ground lamb; 160 for egg dishes; 165 for poultry and casserole; and 165 for casseroles

ChillKeep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or colder and never leave perishable foods out of refrigeration for more than two hours.

More information on the recall can be found on FDA’s website at bit.ly/31z1rih and on the CDC’s website at bit.ly/3wCLF1D. For more information on Salmonella, visit the CDC’s website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/salmonella-food.html.

Smith is an assistant professor and statewide consumer food specialist for Washington State University. She can be reached at food.safety@wsu.edu. If you have a food safety question you would like to see appear in this column, send your question to us at food.safety@wsu.edu.

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