More than 650 Americans have fallen sick with food poisoning over the past couple of months. The culprit: onions.
The US Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) issued a food safety alert this week warning that a salmonella outbreak responsible for at least 129 hospitalizations has been linked to fresh whole red, white, and yellow onions. The poisoned alliums were imported from Chihuahua, Mexico in the period before August 27, and were distributed to stores and restaurants across the country by ProSource Inc.
“Do not buy or eat any whole fresh red, white, or yellow onions if they were imported from Chihuahua, Mexico and distributed by ProSource Inc,” advises the CDC alert. “Throw away any whole red, white, or yellow onions you have at home that do not have a sticker or packaging.”
The agency is also advising people to wash any surfaces that potentially contaminated onions have touched with hot, soapy water or a dishwasher.
There are over 2,500 types of salmonella bacteria, but fewer than 100 of them are known to infect humans. This small number, however, are responsible for an estimated 1.35 million infections in the US every year, according to CDC estimates. Luckily, less than two percent of these lead to hospitalization, and fewer than one in every 30,000 cases ends up being fatal. Nevertheless, it’s not a fun experience: the most common symptoms of the illness are diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, and it usually lasts anywhere between four days and a whole week.
While most people recover from the infection without antibiotics, the CDC advises anybody experiencing severe salmonella symptoms to contact their healthcare provider immediately. The symptoms you should look out for, according to the alert, are diarrhea and a fever higher than 39 °C (102 °F), diarrhea for more than three days that is not improving, bloody diarrhea, vomiting so much that you can’t keep liquids down, and signs of dehydration like peeing less, having a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when you stand up.
Children under five, adults over the age of 65, and those with weakened immune systems can experience more severe illness from salmonella infection.
So far, the onions have been linked to outbreaks in 37 states. Although ProSource Inc has told the CDC that the contaminated vegetables have not been imported since late August, onions’ long shelf life means that some may still be in homes and businesses across the US.
Federal investigators are currently working to find out whether any other onions or onion suppliers are linked to the outbreak. Meanwhile, the main advice to both individuals and businesses is to keep things sanitary, and throw out any onions of dubious origin – and while you’re going through the cupboards, you may as well keep an eye out for any contaminated seafood or Italian meats, both of which are also the subject of ongoing CDC salmonella alerts.