More than 650 people have been infected in a Salmonella Oranienburg outbreak that federal officials say has been traced to fresh onions from Mexico.

The implicated onions are from ProSource Produce Inc. of Hailey, ID, according to an update tonight from the Food and Drug Administration. ProSource owners have agreed to recall red, yellow and white onions imported from the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, with import dates from July 1, 2021, through Aug. 27, 2021. Descriptors of the onion types include, but are not limited to, jumbo, colossal, medium, and sweet onions. As of 7 p.m. EDT the company’s recall notice was not yet on the FDA website.

The outbreak update this afternoon from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as of Oct.18 there have been 652 patients confirmed, up by 60 from the agency’s most recent update on Oct. 14. At least 129 people have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been associated with the outbreak.

Officials from the CDC and the Food and Drug Association have been investigating the outbreak for weeks. The confirmed sick people live in 37 states.

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“Epidemiologic and traceback data show that illnesses in this outbreak are linked to whole red, white and yellow onions distributed by ProSource Inc. that were imported from Chihuahua, Mexico. Investigators are working to determine if other onions or suppliers are linked to this outbreak,” according to the CDC update today.

The onions were sold to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the United States.

ProSource Inc. reported onions were last imported on Aug. 27, but they can last up to three months in storage and may still be in homes and businesses.

Illnesses started in May, with the most recent being confirmed with a Sept. 30 date for symptom onset. It can take weeks, and sometimes more than a month, for outbreak illnesses to be added to the CDC’s patient count because of the time it takes for initial and confirmation testing, followed by the reporting process through local and state agencies.

Sick people in the outbreak range in age from less than 1 year to 97 years old, with a median age of 37, and 57 percent are female. Of 417 people with information available, 129, or 31 percent, have been hospitalized. That is higher than the normal percentage of hospitalizations for Salmonella outbreaks.

“Of 193 people with information available, 145 (75 percent) reported eating or maybe eating raw onions or dishes likely containing raw onion before they became sick. Several ill people reported eating at the same restaurants, indicating they may be part of illness clusters,” the CDC reported.

In the 37 states with sick people, there have been 20 illness clusters identified at restaurants where onions were served. Information from these clusters shows that many ill people ate raw onions, according to today’s update.

“FDA conducted a traceback investigation and identified ProSource Inc. as a common supplier of imported onions to many of the restaurants where sick people ate,” the CDC reported. “One of these clusters occurred in a restaurant where investigators identified the outbreak strain of Salmonella Oranienburg in a condiment container with leftover lime and cilantro. The sick person reported that the condiment cup had also contained onions, although none were left when the condiment was tested.”

The CDC is recommending that individuals and restaurants not buy or eat any whole fresh red, white, or yellow onions if they were imported from Chihuahua, Mexico, and distributed by ProSource Inc.

If onions do not have any labeling, the CDC says they should be tossed. The agency says consumers and restaurants should clean and sanitize any containers or utensils that were used to store or prepare onions, including refrigerators.  

About Salmonella infections
Food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any fresh onions 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 need to be hospitalized. 

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

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