The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a food safety alert for a salmonella outbreak linked to fresh diced onions.
The multistate salmonella outbreak has prompted a voluntary recall of Gills Brand prepared (pre-cut and diced onion) products. Consumers are being urged not to eat, sell, or serve these products, and to dispose of any that may be in their homes.
Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause serious illness, including vomiting, bloody diarrhea, hospitalization, and even death.
According to the most recent update by the Food and Drug Administration, issued on October 24, there have now been 73 confirmed cases, with 15 hospitalizations across 22 states. California and Utah have been the most affected so far, with both having between 15-19 confirmed cases, followed by Michigan, with 5-9 cases.
On October 23, Gills Onions of Oxnard, California issued a press release acknowledging that they were voluntarily recalling some of their fresh diced onions products because of the potential of salmonella contamination.
The recalled products include “diced yellow onions,” “diced celery & onions,” “diced mirepoix,” and “diced red onions.” A full list of recalled products, states where they were sold, and retailers is available through the FDA’s recall announcement.
All the affected products are past their August 2023 expiration dates and are no longer available in stores. However, consumers may still have them in their refrigerators or freezers. Any recalled products should be destroyed or discarded.
The cause of the outbreak has not yet been determined.
Amy Philpott, a company spokeswoman for Gills Onions, told Healthline that the company was “conducting an internal investigation and working closely with the FDA.”
“Food safety and public health are our priorities, and the company is taking this seriously. The company contacted its direct customers and issued a press release as soon as it learned some of its products were included in the FDA’s traceback investigation,” she said.
Salmonella outbreaks occur with regularity in the United States, despite health and safety requirements. Due to the structure of the food supply chain, it is common for a single producer to ship products nationwide, leading to widespread, interstate outbreaks.
“We’re living in an era when our food can come from so many different sources. They’re not always local. So, you get contamination that can spread far and wide, and that’s why it’s so important for health authorities to work with our media partners to let the people know that they need to take steps to keep themselves and their families safe,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, the Interim Health Officer for the Fresno County Department of Public Health.
Vohra told Healthline that he was aware of onion-related salmonella outbreak, and that his office was concurrently working to address a salmonella outbreak localized in California due contaminated raw milk and cream. That outbreak now included 12 confirmed cases and three hospitalizations.
Any time that two or more people get sick from eating the same contaminated food, it is considered an outbreak. The CDC has listed four major salmonella outbreaks so far for 2023. In 2022, they listed only three; there were nine listed for 2021 associated with a wide variety of foods, including ground turkey, frozen cooked shrimp, onions, and salami sticks.
Salmonella is a bacteria that is most often spread through contaminated food. It is responsible for causing salmonella poisoning or salmonellosis.
Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, fever, chills, nausea, and stomach cramps, which can appear anywhere between six hours and six days after infection. Symptoms typically last between four to seven days. More extreme symptoms include bloody diarrhea and bloody vomiting.
In many cases, salmonella infections will clear on their own, but they can require hospitalization and treatment.
“Salmonella is what we call an invasive bacteria. It literally gets into the intestines, the tissue, and then causes such an inflammatory response that you get high fevers and you start to shed blood,” said Vohra.
The bacteria is highly infectious and can be readily spread through fecal-oral contact, often transferred through raw or undercooked meat, eggs, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.
There are about 1.35 million salmonella infections annually in the United States, according to the CDC. About 26,500 of those cases require hospitalizations, and more than 400 resulted in death.
However, the CDC notes that salmonellosis is underreported and can only be verified through laboratory testing.
If you think you might have contaminated products in your household, here’s what to do:
- Check the FDA’s recall announcement to identify the affected products.
- Look in your refrigerator and freezer for any of the affected products and throw them away.
- The affected products are expired, so they aren’t being sold in stores.
- Wash and sanitize any surfaces that had contact with the product — including inside your refrigerator/freezer.
Contact your healthcare provider or go to a hospital if:
- You have serious symptoms including severe or bloody diarrhea, intense vomiting, dehydration, fever above 102 degrees, or diarrhea that doesn’t resolve within three days.
- You have less severe symptoms that don’t clear on their own within a week.
- You believe you have symptoms of salmonella poisoning and also have underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised. Contact your healthcare provider or go to the hospital if you are experiencing serious symptoms or if your less-severe symptoms do not clear on their own within a week.
“If you are feeling sick with fever, diarrhea, especially bloody diarrhea, or you’re part of a cluster, like you have relatives or friends or household contacts or work contacts who got sick, especially after sharing food, that’s a really important red flag,” said Vohra.
The CDC has announced a food safety alert for salmonella contamination in Gills Onion’s brand fresh diced onion products.
So far, there have been 73 reported cases of salmonellosis, including 15 hospitalizations, across 22 states.
Consumers should discard any products that they may have in their home refrigerators or freezers.
Symptoms of salmonellosis include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.