The headlines and the grocery stores are telling you two different things. The headlines scream about the current salmonella outbreak 2020, but your local grocery offers onions aplenty in all varieties. What gives? Let us at the National Onion Association break it down for you.
The onion recall links to only one U.S. grower
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control issued a health alert in July relating to red onions from Thomson International out of Bakersfield, Calif. That occurred after Canadian officials linked several food-borne salmonella cases to the grower. Since then, the outbreak has sickened almost 1,000 people in both Canada and 47 U.S. states. So far, the agencies have reported no deaths. Read the NOA’s Red Onions and Salmonella page for more information.
The amount of onions circulating in the United States is immense. In fact, U.S. farmers plant approximately 125,000 acres of onions each year and produce about 6.75 billion pounds a year. The recall affects onions shipped from the grower from mid-May to mid-June. Consumers and food services establishments use them almost as soon as they land in the pantry or kitchen. To keep the supply of onions constant, there are literally hundreds of onion growers across the United States growing red, yellow, white and sweet onions year-round. While the FDA continues to investigate, those tainted onions are out of the supply chain by now. That is why grocers continue to stock their produce departments with onions without worry. So when you ask yourself, ‘Are onions safe to eat?’ Our answer is yes. Here’s why.
This incident of onions and salmonella is isolated
Onions are one of the safest vegetables to eat. They grow to maturity with a hard, some say impenetrable, outer skin that keeps bugs at bay. That skin also forms a unique barrier to bacteria. When onions reach their maturity, growers pull them up from the roots and leave them to dry in the field for a few days. That is called “curing” period. In that time, the sun’s rays kill off any lingering bacteria on the skins. The skin adds that extra layer of security by keeping anything from penetrating the actual onion. That’s why we at the National Onion Association call the onion ‘Nature’s Ninja.’ We can cite studies that show onions watered and soaked in the field with bacteria laden water will still repel that bacteria after this process.
Onion growers police themselves
In 2010, the U.S. onion industry proactively developed voluntary commodity specific food safety guidelines for the dry bulb onion supply chain. This document serves as guidance for growers and shippers to adhere to best practices and regulations [i.e. Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)] governing safe vegetable production. Many suppliers regularly test and monitor the aspects of their growing and distribution cycles. They maintain records of those results for filing with the appropriate auditing agencies. This ensures that onions sent fresh for market or retail processing are of the highest quality.
This one case is the only one known that has been linked directly to onions. Because of that, many onion growers are shaking their heads. Knowing how naturally protected onions are, the only thing many can think of is some sort of cross-contamination. Onions when stored are not washed. Growers store them in climate-controlled sheds to keep them at optimum temperatures, with plenty of air circulation. So any pathogens would have to be introduced by another source.
Health benefits of onions are unquestioned
Eating raw onions daily provides multiple benefits. They contain 20 percent of your daily Vitamin C needs, 12% of your daily fiber needs, no fat or cholesterol, and they contain 11 vitamins and minerals. They contain quercetin, which helps your body fight off certain cancers, as well as high blood
pressure and diabetes. So eat up. Our onion growers work hard every day to provide consumers with the best possible product. Incidents like this recall only serve to deepen growers’ resolve to execute the very best growing and storing practices to keep consumers safe. Read all about the health properties of onions here.