Onions from Mexico have been linked to a Salmonella outbreak in 37 U.S. states and officials have connected 652 patients to the surge, 129 of whom have been hospitalized.
Health officials said the onions, sold to restaurants and grocery stores nationwide, were imported from Chihuahua, Mexico, by ProSource Inc. of Hailey, Idaho. The first reported illness was on May 30, but the majority were reported from the end of August to the beginning of September.
People across the U.S. were advised to throw away all unlabeled red, white and yellow onions around October 20. Then:
- A second onion supplier, Keeler Family Farms of New Mexico, was listed as another supplier of the potential tainted onions, joining ProSource, reported Fresh Fruit Portal (Oct. 22).
- Keeler Family Farms recalled onions that were distributed to all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers filed the first lawsuit in the multistate Salmonella outbreak linked to onions distributed by ProSource, Inc. and sold throughout the U.S.
WHY IS THIS A WIDESPREAD OUTBREAK?
To find out what caused such a significant outbreak, The Food Institute spoke to several experts on the topic.
“This recent Salmonella outbreak is widespread for the simple fact that Mexico is the biggest agricultural importer for the U.S.,” said Gabriel Nunez, Quality Control Technician/ Product Safety at Consumer’s Health Report. “Many restaurants located in the U.S. source their onions from Mexico, in instances like this Salmonella has been shown to rapidly spread or outbreak because the onions are dispersed amongst Americans across the country.”
Nunez added that Salmonella has been shown to quickly colonize, having the ability to transfer onto other surfaces. If the imported items are exposed to the bacteria, they too will become contaminated.
“For example, if contaminated onions are displayed at a grocery store near other vegetables those vegetables are now contaminated and have the ability to affect you if they are consumed,” he said.
HOW CAN OUTBREAKS LIKE THIS BE PREVENTED IN THE FUTURE?
There are several food safety measures that can be implemented to prevent outbreaks.
“Since Salmonella is carried by animals and can contaminate with direct or indirect contact in freshwater, it’s best to prevent this issue by testing water quality and enforcing strict regulations that involve testing products before they are imported or exported,” Nunez said.
Medical technologist Aisha Noreen also suggests:
- Safe agricultural practices for produce farmers
- Strict surveillance of packaging and storage facilities
- Ensure proper handwashing techniques and minimize cross-contamination
- Buyer specifications for food safety in food purchasing contracts
- Food safety education for consumers
- Sterilizing fruits and vegetables including the use of chlorine, UV light and high temperature treatments