Thompson International has called out the FDA and CDC in the United States and the Canadian food safety and public health authorities in relation to a Salmonella outbreak in 2020 that was linked to the company’s onions. The company says their onions were not the problem.
Here is Thomson International’s and their financial backers’ position on a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened thousands in the United States and Canada:
The FDA took over 2000 swabs of Thomson’s onions, fields, and facilities and was unable to locate any trace of Salmonella Newport. In fact, the FDA has since cleared Thomson International and has allowed them to continue its operations.
It appears at this time the FDA made a rash decision to recall Thomson’s onions and although their investigation has not concluded as to the root cause of the Salmonella Newport, the FDA has advised they are no longer looking at Thomson as the cause.
Based on our investigation to date, we cannot entertain any claims presented as a result of this recall at this time. Be assured Thomson has complied with all FDA requests and will preserve any evidence obtained as a result of this recall investigation.
Here is the FDA’s, CDCs and food safety and public health entities in Canada’s position:
On July 9, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state partners commenced an investigation of an outbreak of Salmonella Newport cases linked to red, white, yellow, and sweet yellow onions in 2020. This outbreak was assigned the CDC ID 2007MLJJP-1.
As of October 8, a total of 1,127 lab-confirmed cases of Salmonella Newport from 48 states (AK 25, AL 2, AZ 39, AR 2, CA 128, CO 32, CT 2, DE 2, FL 8, GA 11, HI 3, ID 43, IL 54, IN 4, IA 31, KS 3, KY 3, ME 6, MD 7, MA 2, MI 47, MN 19, MS 5, MO 11, MT 72, NE 10, NV 11, NH 1, NJ 12, NM 3, NY 14, NC 6, ND 9, OH 11, OK 1, OR 109, PA 27, RI 3, SC 1, SD 23, TN 7, TX 2, UT 115, VA 10, WA 150, WV 3, WI 11, WY 27) have been counted in the outbreak. Illnesses started between June 19 and September 11, 2020. Cases ranged from under one 1 to 102 years old (median 41). Fifty-eight percent of cases were female. Of the 705 cases with information available, 167 reported hospitalization, and none were reported to have died. All case isolates were closely related to each other (within 0-6 alleles).
In Canada, there were 515 confirmed cases of Salmonella Newport illness linked to this outbreak in the following provinces: British Columbia (121), Alberta (293), Saskatchewan (35), Manitoba (26), Ontario (14), Quebec (25) and Prince Edward Island (1). Individuals became sick between mid-June and late-August 2020. Seventy-nine individuals were hospitalized. Three people died, but Salmonella did not contribute to the cause of these deaths. Individuals who became ill were between 1 and 100 years of age. The majority of cases, 54 percent, were female. Individuals who were ill reported eating red onions at home, in menu items ordered at restaurants, and in residential care settings. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted a food safety investigation and issued related food recall warnings. More information on recalled products is available on CFIA’s website. The U.S. CDC also reported an outbreak of Salmonella Newport illnesses with a similar genetic fingerprint to illnesses reported in Canada.
In interviews conducted with cases, ninety-five percent of people reported eating onions or foods containing onions in the week before they fell ill. Of the 208 cases with information available, 66 percent reported red onion consumption, 63 percent reported white onion consumption, and 53 percent reported yellow onion consumption. Fifty-eight percent of cases reported exposure to several types of onions. Thirty-four distinct clusters have been identified in 13 states to be associated with this outbreak. Information was collected on 23 of these clusters, and restaurants and grocery stores associated with these 23 clusters were found to serve red (17), yellow (13), or white (10) onions. Sixteen subclusters were associated with multiple onion exposures.
Epidemiologic evidence and traceback information indicated that red onions were the likely source of this outbreak. However, due to harvesting practices, other onions were likely contaminated as well. Onions by Thomson International, Inc. of Bakersfield, California, and several other companies (ALDI, Food Lion, Giant Eagle, Hello Fresh, Imperfect Foods, Kroger, Publix, Ralph’s, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart) were recalled in response to this outbreak starting August 1, 2020. Foods made with the recalled onions, such as cheese dips and spreads, salsas, and chicken salads were also recalled in association with the outbreak (from Fred Meyer, Fry’s Food Stores, Giant Eagle, Kroger, Smith’s, Spokane Produce, Stop and Shop, Walmart, Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse, and Taylor Farms). Hello Fresh recalled onions received by customers between May 8 and July 31 on August 19, 2020.
A sharp decline in cases occurred after the onion recall, furthering the likelihood of them as the source of the outbreak. FDA conducted environmental sampling at farms and processing plants of interest, but no matching strains were discovered at these locations. On Oct. 8, 2020, the outbreak was considered over.
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