Health officials investigating salmonella outbreaks in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Many people who became ill reported eating fresh produce, the Public Health Agency of Canada said, but it hasn't pinpointed the source.

Many people who became ill reported eating fresh produce, Public Health Agency of Canada says

A growth of salmonella bacteria in a petri dish is pictured in this file photo. The Public Health Agency of Canada is investigating a salmonella outbreak in Western Canada but have not yet pinpointed its exact source. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it is investigating an outbreak of salmonella in Western Canada after at least 46 people became ill from the bacteria.

In a news release on Friday, the agency said the illnesses happened in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There was also one case in Ontario, but it was linked to travel from Alberta.

Three people have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported, according to the release. 

The agency said "many" of the people who got sick reported eating fresh produce before they became ill, but more information is needed to determine the source. The outbreak appears to be ongoing as illnesses continue to be reported, it said.

Anyone can become sick with salmonella, but young children, the elderly, pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk.

The public health agency said it is working with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada.

It also urged people to follow safe food handling practices to help prevent further salmonella infections. 

"It is difficult to know whether a product is contaminated with salmonella because you can't see, smell or taste it," the public health agency said. 

The public health agency recommended the following:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce.
  • Cut away any bruised or damaged areas on fresh produce, since harmful bacteria can thrive in these areas.
  • Wash fresh produce thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present.
  • Don't soak fresh produce in a sink full of water. It can become contaminated by bacteria in the sink.
  • Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces like avocados, oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots. It is not necessary to use produce cleansers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables, the agency said. 
  • Use one cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
  • Place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on a separate clean plate or in a container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
  • Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria and avoid using sponges as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
  • Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food.
  • Do not prepare food for other people if you think you are sick with a salmonella infection or suffering from any other contagious illness causing diarrhea.

With files from CBC News