Mysterious salmonella poisonings traced to this U.S. vegetable

British Columbia among five provinces warned to avoid U.S.-sourced red onions in all its forms.

Canadian public health officials have traced the source of a mysterious wave of salmonella poisoning that has sickened Canadians in five provinces, including B.C. 

The likely culprit? Imported U.S. red onions.

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In a July 30 update, the Public Health Agency of Canada noted there have been a total of 114 cases of the illness since mid-June, including 43 in British Columbia. Across Canada, 16 people have been hospitalized from the pathogen, though no one has died.

Individual cases were found in people from ages three to 100 years old, though children under five years old, seniors, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk of falling seriously ill, according to the PHAC.

“Individuals who became ill reported eating red onions at home, in menu items ordered at restaurants and in residential care settings,” said the Canadian public health agency.

The bacteria can be picked up from contaminated food, a surface or animal can be spread to other people while not showing any symptoms. Symptoms include fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting. They can last from four to seven days and will clear up without treatment in healthy people, though sometimes antibiotics are required. Most people recover within a few days.

Until more is known about the outbreak, residents of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario should not eat red onions imported to Canada from the U.S. That includes any food products that contain raw red onions from the U.S.

Canadian red onions, on the other hand, are safe, said the PHAC its public health notice.

“As the investigation is ongoing, it is possible that additional sources could be identified, and food recall warnings related to this outbreak may be issued,” reads the PHAC public health notice.

In the meantime, it’s recommended that you check your shelves and refrigerator for U.S. origin red onions. If you have any in your kitchen, throw them out and sanitize the drawers where they were kept.

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