239 salmonella illnesses in Canada now linked to U.S. onions

The Public Health Agency of Canada says there are now 239 confirmed cases of salmonella infections linked to red onions imported from the United States.

Onions sold across Canada and U.S. under a variety of names

Red onion, Allium cepa, and other varieties of onions imported from the United States from Thomson International have caused more than 200 salmonella infections in Canada. They are now the subject of a recall. (FlowerPhotos/Universal Images Group/Getty)

The Public Health Agency of Canada says there are now 239 confirmed cases of Salmonella infections linked to onions imported from the United States.

"Do not eat, use, sell or serve any red, white, yellow and sweet yellow onions from Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, Calif., U.S.A, or any products made with these onions," the agency said Friday.

The advice applies to people  across Canada, as well as retailers, distributors, manufacturers and food service establishments such as hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, hospitals and nursing homes.

Onions grown in Canada are not affected.

As of Friday, the 239 cases of Salmonella Newport illness linked to the outbreak have been reported as follows:

  • British Columbia: 67.
  • Alberta: 149.
  • Saskatchewan: 5.
  • Manitoba: 13.
  • Ontario: 3.
  • Quebec: 1.
  • Prince Edward Island: 1.

 Since Aug. 2, Canadian investigators have found 119 more illnesses. 

People became sick between mid-June and late July 2020. Twenty-nine individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported among the individuals, who range in age from less than a year to 100.

Symptoms of a salmonella infection typically start six to 72 hours after exposure, health officials say.

WATCH | Salmonella outbreak tied to U.S. onions:

Salmonella outbreak linked to California onions

2 years ago
Duration 2:06
A salmonella outbreak that started in the U.S. has led to a wide recall of California onions in Canada. At least 120 people in seven provinces are sick and 17 were sent to hospital.

Earlier this week, Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Thomson International expanded its recall of red onions to also remove yellow, white and sweet yellow varieties from the grocery aisle.

The onions have been sold across Canada under the names El Competidor, Imperial Fresh, Onions 52, Tender Loving Care and Thomson International.

In the U.S. on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 640 ill people have now been reported from 43 states in the outbreak of Salmonella Newport infections linked to onions from an expanding list of grocers. Of these, 85 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

A food science professor at University of Guelph says onions may be hard to come by at the supermarket for a couple of weeks out of an abundance of caution about potential contamination.

Leek and garlic alternatives

Keith Warriner said cooking kills salmonella in most cases, but there's concern that the bacteria could be on the outside of the onion, and could potentially spread to other parts of the kitchen — for instance, if separate cutting boards aren't used for separate items.

Federal health officials said if the packaging or sticker shows an onion is from Thomson International Inc., don't eat it. Throw it away and wash your hands.

If you're not sure of the source of your onions, Warriner said the watch word in food safety is "if in doubt, throw it out."

It shouldn't be too long until stores restock their shelves with onions grown outside of the U.S. Until then, the one-time chef suggests using alternatives such as leek and garlic to add some zest to your recipes.

    With files from The Canadian Press and CBC's Susana da Silva