The National Onion Association is saddened to hear of the illnesses caused by a Salmonella contamination linked to red onions, and we can assure the American and Canadian publics that if onions are proven to be the source, it is an isolated incident being taken seriously.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has isolated the contamination to one grower, Thomson International, in Bakersfield, Calif., who is cooperating fully with a voluntary recall of all varieties of its onions out of an abundance of caution. Those include, red, yellow, white and sweet onions. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a full recall of these onions under the following brands: El Competidor, Imperial Fresh, Onions 52, Tender Loving Care, Thomson International, and Thomson Premium.
Though it has isolated red onions, the FDA has not yet completed its investigation into the cause of the contamination.
Nothing is more important to our nation’s growers than food safety. All onion industry growers adhere to rigorous food safety regulations to ensure all onions that wind up on dinner tables are safe to eat.
Consumers are asked to inspect their onions. If they cannot determine from packaging the origin of their red onions, they are asked to dispose of them. Cooking onions thoroughly will naturally kill any potential lingering bacteria.
Further, if you feel you have come in contact with these products, you will need to use extra vigilance in cleaning and sanitizing any surfaces or containers they may have come in contact with.
Please read the full release from the FDA’s investigation here. This release can direct you on who to call if you feel you have been exposed in this outbreak, with online forms and contact information.
Please read the investigation release from the FDA here.
Onion and food safety facts
Red onions and all bulb onions are uniquely prepared by nature with a barrier to bacteria because of their impenetrable, papery skins.
The onion curing process also is designed further to keep onions safe from food-borne illnesses by allowing them to dry in warm temperatures before being sent to market. Many times, cross contamination is the culprit for onion contamination. The following studies may help further explain how resilient onions are:
- According to a study at the University of Oregon, ‘Properly drying onions prior to storage is key to their preservation and prevents the development of bacteria, mold, and freezing of the onions.’ This white paper from the University of Oregon explains the process.
- A 2014 study by the Malheur County Experiment station in Oregon exposed field onions to bacteria in mass quantities. The study, conducted with E. coli-laced irrigation, showed that onions posed no risk of contamination because of the curing process. Read about that study here. The study was published by the National Library of Medicine.
- In the last 14 years at least, there hasn’t been one outbreak of fresh, raw onions associated with food-borne illnesses. The CDC outlines food-borne illness outbreaks dating back to 2006 here.
- Onions contain vital nutrients and phytochemicals that work with your body to stay strong and stave off diseases and some cancers, as well as diabetes.
Overall, your chances of contracting food-borne illnesses when you eat onions is slim. Our growers make Food Safety their No. 1 priority. While this outbreak of red onions and salmonella has affected hundreds, it is isolated to one farm, which has already removed product from distribution channels. Farmers grow and harvest onions throughout the country, from New York to Washington, on south to Texas and Georgia. You can count on America’s onion growers to provide you with the safest product to keep you and your family healthy.
What you need to know about Salmonella
Salmonella can spread to vegetables through contaminated water or fertilizer, or if they come into contact with contaminated products during cutting, washing, packing or preparation. Read more about that here.
- According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Salmonella are a group of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness and fever called salmonellosis. Salmonella can be spread by food handlers who do not wash their hands and/or the surfaces and tools they use between food preparation steps, and when people eat raw or undercooked foods. Salmonella can also spread from animals to people. People who have direct contact with certain animals, including poultry and reptiles, can spread the bacteria from the animals to food if they do not practice proper hand washing hygiene before handling food. Pets can also spread the bacteria within the home environment if they eat food contaminated with Salmonella.” To learn more about the bacteria and its symptoms, go here.
- The Centers for Disease Control estimate that Salmonella causes 1 million food-borne illnesses every year in the United States, with the past few years linking outbreaks to contaminated cucumbers, pre-cut melon, chicken, eggs, pistachios, raw tuna, sprouts and many other foods. Visit their page to read more about Salmonella, how it spread and how to protect your food.
Food Safety Tips:
To protect against food-borne illnesses, people should clean, separate, cook, and chill. The Food and Drug Administration suggests food safety tips for consumers and retailers here.