Public health officials are reporting a new Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that is likely from the consumption of eggs. As of today, the outbreak has sickened more than 50 people in Canada.
Investigators from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are working with provincial authorities in the search of the source of the contamination, according to a public health notice released late this afternoon. Fifty-seven sick people are spread across Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia.
The outbreak appears to be ongoing, PHAC reports because illnesses continue to be reported. Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to eggs has been identified as a likely source of the outbreak.
“Many of the individuals who became sick reported consuming, preparing, cooking, and baking at home with eggs. Some individuals reported exposure to eggs at an institution — including nursing homes and hospitals — where they resided or worked before becoming ill,” according to the PHAC notice.
“As the outbreak investigation is ongoing, it is possible that additional sources could be identified, and food recall warnings related to this outbreak may be issued. This public health notice will be updated as the investigation evolves.”
Outbreak patients became sick between late October 2020 and late January 2021. Nineteen people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. People who became ill are between 2 and 98 years of age. The majority of cases, 68 percent, are female.
Between October and December 2020, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued food recall warnings for a variety of eggs distributed in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The recalled eggs are now past their shelf-life and are no longer available for purchase.
Some individuals who became sick in the current outbreak reported exposure to recalled eggs. However, there are a number of recently ill individuals that do not.
It is likely that more recent illnesses may be reported in the outbreak because of the lag time between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to public health officials. For this outbreak, the illness reporting period is between three and six weeks.
The CFIA is continuing its food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated food recall warnings.
General warnings about eggs
The PHAC is issuing this public health notice to inform Canadians of the investigation findings to date and to share important safe food handling practices to help prevent further Salmonella infections, according to officials.
Eggs can sometimes be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria on the shell and inside the egg. The bacteria are most often transmitted to people when they improperly handle, eat or cook contaminated foods. Salmonella contamination cannot be seen or smelled.
Illnesses can be prevented if proper safe food handling and cooking practices are followed. PHAC is not advising consumers to avoid eating properly cooked eggs, but this outbreak serves as a reminder that Canadians should always handle raw eggs carefully and cook eggs and egg-based foods to an internal temperature of at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) to ensure they are safe to eat.
The following food preparation tips may help reduce your risk of getting sick, but they may not fully eliminate the risk of illness.
- Always handle raw eggs carefully and cook eggs and egg-based foods to an internal temperature of at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) to ensure they are safe to eat.
- Do not eat raw or undercooked eggs. Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm.
- When purchasing eggs, choose only refrigerated eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
- Always wash your hands before and after you touch raw eggs. Wash with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
- Eggs (whether raw or cooked) should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours. Eggs that have been at room temperature for more than two hours should be thrown out.
- Use pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs when preparing foods that aren’t heated (such as icing, eggnog or Caesar salad dressing).
- Do not taste raw dough, batter, or any other product containing raw eggs. Eating even a small amount could make you sick.
- Microwave cooking of raw eggs is not recommended because of the possibility of uneven heating.
- Sanitize countertops, cutting boards, and utensils before and after preparing eggs or egg-based foods. Use a kitchen sanitizer (following the directions on the container) or a bleach solution (5 ml household bleach to 750 mL of water), and rinse with water.
- Do not re-use plates, cutting boards, or utensils that have come in contact with raw eggs unless they have been thoroughly washed, rinsed, and sanitized.
- Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sponges as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
- 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.
About Salmonella infections
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to public health officials.
Anyone who has eaten eggs and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.
Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.
Some people get infected without getting sick or showing any symptoms. However, they may still spread the infections to others.
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