Patients in an ongoing Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak in Canada have reported eating fresh produce before becoming sick, but officials have not identified a specific source.

The outbreak includes at least 46 people and stretches across five Canadian provinces, according to a public notice from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

“The source of the outbreak has not been identified and the investigation is ongoing. Outbreak investigators are gathering information on possible sources and possible ways contamination may have occurred,” according to the notice.

“Many of the individuals who became sick reported eating fresh produce before their illness. However, more information is needed to determine the source of the outbreak. The outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported.”

The sick people live in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The illness reported in Ontario was related to travel to Alberta, the public health agency reported. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that residents in other provinces and territories are affected by this outbreak, according to public health officials.

As of Nov. 10, there had been 46 laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella Enteritidis illness investigated in British Columbia with 18, Alberta with 18, Saskatchewan with 3, Manitoba with 6 and Ontario with 1. The patients became sick between late September and mid-October. Three individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Individuals who became ill are between 9 and 89 years old. The majority of cases, 64 percent, were female.

Additional patients are likely to be identified because the source has not been identified and because of the time it takes between when a person becomes sick and when the illness is documented and reported to federal officials, which can take a month or more.

“Given the evolving nature of this outbreak, PHAC is issuing this public health notice to inform residents in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba of the investigation findings to date,” PHAC officials reported.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada to investigate the outbreak.

The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation. If contaminated food products are identified, the agency will take steps to protect the public, including recalling the products as required. Currently there are no recalls associated with this outbreak.

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 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.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)