Red onions imported to Western Canada from the United States by the Sysco food company are subject to recall due to risk of salmonella contamination.
As of July 30, 114 people have confirmed cases of salmonella and the Public Health Agency of Canada said the imported onions are the likely source of the problem.
Of those affected, 43 are in British Columbia, 55 in Alberta, 13 in Manitoba and two in Ontario. One case in a person from Prince Edward Island is connected to travel to Alberta. Saskatchewan had not confirmed any cases as of July 30 but some illnesses there are being investigated, the agency said.
“Individuals became sick between mid-June and mid-July 2020. Information is available for 102 illnesses. Out of 102 people, 16 individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Individuals who became ill are between 3 and 100 years of age. The majority of cases (56 percent) are female.
“Individuals who became ill reported eating red onions at home, in menu items ordered at restaurants and in residential care settings.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the onions have been distributed in all western provinces and in Ontario. They are Imperial Fresh brand in the 10 and 25 pound bags and were imported after May 24.
“Food service establishments, institutions, retailers, distributors and manufacturers should not serve, use or sell the recalled products,” the CFIA said in its notice.
“These may also have been purchased from Sysco on-line or through various restaurant locations.”
The public health agency said its investigation is ongoing.
“Until more is known about the outbreak, individuals in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario are advised to not eat any red onions imported to Canada from the U.S., including any food products that contain raw red onions imported from U.S.,” the agency said.
“Retailers and restaurants in these locations are also advised not to use, sell or serve red onions imported from the U.S. Red onions grown in Canada are not affected by this advice.”
Those who have purchased the onions should throw them out or return them to the store. If unsure of their origin, the CFIA advised checking with the place of purchase.
The public health agency said a similar outbreak of salmonella illness is being investigated in the U.S., in cases that have the same genetic fingerprint as the Canadian cases. Investigators in the two countries are collaborating on the investigation.
Most people infected by salmonella recover after a few days but in some cases the effects can be severe. Symptoms include fever, chills, diarrhea, cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting.
Advice from the public health agency includes the following:
1/ If you have red onions at home:
•Look for a label showing where the red onion was grown. It may be printed on the package or on a sticker.
• If the packaging or sticker shows that it is from the U.S., don’t eat it. Throw it away and wash your hands.
• If it isn’t labelled, don’t eat it. Throw it away and wash your hands.
• If you don’t know whether the red onion found in a premade salad, sandwich, wrap or dip contains red onion from the U.S., don’t eat it. Throw it away and wash your hands.
• Wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in areas (such as fridges and cupboards) where red onions were stored.
2/ If you buy red onions at a store:
• Look for a label showing where the red onion was grown. It may be printed on the package or on a sticker.
• If the packaging shows that it is from the U.S., don’t buy it.
• If it is an unpackaged product, or is not labelled, ask the retailer whether the red onion comes from the U.S.
• If you can’t confirm that the red onion in stores is not from the U.S., don’t buy it.
3/ If you order salad or any other food item containing red onions at a restaurant or food establishment, ask the staff whether the red onions come from the U.S. If they did, or they don’t know, don’t eat it.
4/ Restaurants and retailers should check the label on bags or boxes of red onions, or ask their suppliers about the source of their red onions.
5/ Suppliers, distributors and others in the supply chain should not ship or sell red onions imported from the U.S.
6/ If you have been diagnosed with a Salmonella infection or any other gastrointestinal illness, do not cook food for other people.
7/ Contact your local public health authority to report any food safety concerns at restaurants or grocery stores, or if you suspect food poisoning from a restaurant or other food establishments.