Hundreds of confirmed cases of Salmonella in Canada are linked to a nationwide outbreak arising from contaminated onions. It is the largest single outbreak of foodborne illness in Canada since 2014.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, myalgia, and low-grade fever. Symptoms typically develop within 6 to 72 hours after consuming contaminated food, and usually last for several days. However, severe cases can last much longer, and in the most severe cases, people may die.
The final statistics about the outbreak are somewhat overwhelming.
Between July and October, nine Public Health Notices were issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada (the "PHAC") regarding the Outbreak, and ten Food Recall Warnings and Notifications were issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (the "CFIA") for over three dozen different recalled onion products. All told, thousands of pounds of onions were recalled as a result of the outbreak, and there were over five hundred confirmed cases and dozens of hospitalizations.
Likely source of Salmonella was onions from Thomson International, Inc.
The PHAC first announced it was investigating a Salmonella outbreak in late July 2020. The PHAC's investigation involved a strain with a similar genetic fingerprint to an outbreak in the US, under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control.
By the end of July, Canadian and US authorities were able to identify red onions originating from Thomson International, Inc. as the likely source of the Salmonella strain at the heart of the outbreak. By August 1, 2020, Thomson announced that it was recalling all sizes of four types of onions (not just red onions) shipped since May 1, 2020. The potentially contaminated onions had been distributed to wholesalers, restaurants, and retail stores in all 50 US states and across Canada. Thomson advised consumers to throw away any onions, or food items containing onions, which were from Thomson, or were of unknown origin, to avoid the risk of contamination. The PHAC alerted all Canadians to follow this same advice.
By mid-August, the list of recalled products grew to include a variety of products made with onions, including salsas, sandwiches, and salads. Additionally, recall notices were directed specifically at hotels, restaurants, and other institutions. In total, the CFIA issued seven food recall warnings and three notifications related to the outbreak. All CFIA notices were given a Class 1 (high risk) designation, indicating a high risk that eating or drinking the food product would lead to serious health problems or death.
Hundreds of Canadians suffered Salmonella illness
The PHAC reported 515 confirmed cases related to the outbreak spread across seven provinces: British Columbia (121), Alberta (293), Saskatchewan (35), Manitoba (26), Ontario (14), Quebec (25) and Prince Edward Island (1). The PHAC also identified 79 individuals who were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak. Three individuals have died, but there has been no information to indicate that Salmonella contributed to the cause of death for any of them.
Since the outbreak occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, where public health officials advised Canadians to stay home to the extent possible, it is possible that many Canadians infected with the Salmonella strain at the heart of the outbreak may not have consulted medical professionals about their illnesses. Meaning, the total number of Canadians infected by the contaminated onions may have been significantly higher than the number of confirmed cases.
Siskinds is pursuing justice for people who have been harmed
Siskinds LLP and Siskinds, Desmeules s.n.c.r.l. are seeking to recover compensation for Canadians in relation to injuries allegedly arising from the Salmonella outbreak. These actions seek to recover damages on behalf of Canadians who purchased and/or consumed the recalled onion products, as well as Canadians who disposed of "unidentifiable" onion products (products for which it was not possible to tell if they were recalled) as a result of receiving notice of the recalls.
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