Salmonella

What to Know About Onions Tied to Salmonella in Maryland, Virginia

News4 is Working 4 You and contacted a dozen grocery store companies in the D.C. area to ask about onions and a salmonella outbreak

NBC Universal, Inc. Hundreds of people have been sickened with salmonella involving onions. Consumer Reporter Susan Hogan has the important information to stay safe.

A salmonella outbreak linked to onions has sickened hundreds of people in at least 37 states, including Maryland and Virginia, federal health officials said Wednesday. 

Illnesses were reported in 48 people in Maryland and 59 people in Virginia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data said as of Thursday afternoon. 

Overall, the CDC has tallied 652 people who became sick from an infection, with at least 129 hospitalized. There have been no deaths associated with the outbreak. The agency said the true number of sick people may be much higher because most people recover without medical care and are not tested for salmonella.

News4 is Working 4 You and contacted a dozen grocery store companies in the D.C. area. Here’s what they said and what you should know about the outbreak. 

The government agency said some red, white and yellow onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico, before Aug. 27 have been linked to a salmonella outbreak in the United States.

What do we know about salmonella in onions sold at grocery stores in D.C., Maryland or Virginia? 

Costco declined to answer questions. 

Giant Food “does not sell the onions that are linked to salmonella, so we have not pulled onions from our stores. The onions we sell are safe for shoppers to purchase and enjoy, a spokesman said.

Harris Teeter “did not purchase or sell the contaminated onions from ProSource,” a statement from a spokeswoman said.

Publix said, “None of our stores have been impacted by this outbreak.” 

Trader Joe’s said, “No Trader Joe’s products are included or affected by this recall; the onions in question were not shipped to Trader Joe’s nor used in TJ’s products.

Walmart lists all recalls on its website. Onions do not appear.

Wegmans said, “We have been following the issue closely and our products are not currently affected by this recall.” 

Aldi, Lidl, Safeway, Target and Whole Foods did not respond to inquiries. 

Which onions are linked to the salmonella outbreak?

The impacted products include fresh whole red, white and yellow onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico, and distributed by ProSource Inc.

They were distributed nationwide and sold to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the United States. They may have a sticker or packaging with the brand name ProSource Inc. noting they were imported from Mexico.

ProSource officials said the onions were last imported on Aug. 27. However, these onions can last up to three months in storage, meaning some may still be in home kitchens and businesses.

In interviews with sick people, public health officials learned that 75% of those infected ate raw onions or dishes likely containing raw onions before they became ill. Several of the sick reported eating at the same restaurants, indicating to officials that they may be part of illness clusters.

The Food and Drug Administration conducted a traceback investigation and identified ProSource as a common supplier of imported onions to many of the restaurants where sick people ate.

Investigators are working to determine if other onions and suppliers may also be linked to the outbreak.

What to do if you have these contaminated onions

Consumers should thrown out onions that have stickers or packaging identifying the brand ProSource and Mexico. The CDC says if you cannot determine where the onions are from, throw them away, do not buy or eat them.

The agency also recommends washing surfaces and containers these onions may have touched with hot soapy water or in a dishwasher.

What should businesses do if they have these onions?

Businesses should not sell or serve these onions. The CDC says to check storage coolers for them. If you can't confirm where the onions are from, discard them.

Also, wash and sanitize any surfaces that may have come in contact with the onions.

What are the symptoms of salmonella?

Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, stomach cramps, excessive vomiting and signs of dehydration. Symptoms can start six hours and up to six days after ingesting the bacteria.

In most cases, people recover without medical care after four to seven days. Some people – especially children younger than 5 years old, adults 65 years and older, and people with weakened immune systems – may experience more severe illnesses that require medical treatment or hospitalization.

Every year, salmonella causes about 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.

To avoid getting sick with salmonella, the CDC recommends four safety measures when preparing food: washing hands, utensils and surfaces, separating raw food, using a food thermometer and refrigerating perishables within two hours.

Check out the CDC's salmonella Q&A page for more information.

How did raw onions get contaminated with salmonella?

It is not clear how the ProSource onions were contaminated with salmonella. Generally, salmonella outbreaks are linked to contamination from post-harvest handling when products come into contact with the bacteria during cutting, washing, packing and preparation processes.

But with this outbreak linked to whole raw onions, the contamination likely occurred pre-harvest. Researchers have found pre-harvest contamination happens when the plant is fertilized with contaminated manure or irrigated with contaminated water.