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CDC: Imported onions contaminated with salmonella sicken people across U.S.

The CDC is warning people to stay away from red, white and yellow onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico, because of salmonella contamination that has sickened more than 600 people across 37 states, with more than 100 needing hospital treatment.

Onions imported in late August and sold to restaurants and grocery stores may have salmonella, which can cause a serious bacterial infection, the Centers for Disease Control reported Wednesday. People should throw out onions labeled as imported from Chihuahua and distributed by ProSource Inc., the CDC said.

"If you can’t tell where the onions are from, don’t buy or eat them," officials said.

No one has been reported sick in Arizona from the outbreak, and investigators are still working to determine if other onions and suppliers are affected as well.

No deaths have been reported from the outbreak, which the CDC began investigating since Sept. 2, and only on Wednesday announced that it had been traced to imported onions.

Of the 652 people reported sickened by the outbreak, 129 have required hospitalization. The largest number of reported infections have been in Texas and Oklahoma, but people in California, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico have also been reported to be sick from the bacteria.

The onions distributed by ProSource and last imported on Aug. 27 can last up to three months in storage and may still be in homes and businesses, the CDC warned. They recommend steps for businesses and individuals to take to avoid salmonella poisoning.

For businesses:

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  • The CDC advises businesses not to sell or serve fresh whole red, white or yellow onions that were imported from Chihuahua and distributed by ProSource Inc.
  • They should also check their coolers for these onions and throw away any if they can’t tell where they’re from.
  • They should wash and sanitize any surfaces that might have touched the onions.

For individuals:

  • The CDC advises individuals not to sell or serve fresh whole red, white or yellow onions that were imported from Chihuahua and distributed by ProSource Inc.
  • Throw away any whole red, white, or yellow onions at home that do not have a sticker or packaging. Contaminated onions may have stickers or packaging indicating the brand (ProSource Inc.) and the country (Mexico) where they were grown. If you can’t tell where the onions are from, don’t buy or eat them.
  • Using hot soapy water or a dishwasher, wash surfaces and containers these onions may have touched.

The CDC said a healthcare provider should be contacted right away if someone is experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F
  • Diarrhea for more than three days that is not improving
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as: Not peeing much, dry mouth and throat and feeling dizzy when standing up

Most people who contract salmonella have diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Symptoms usually start six hours to six days after swallowing food bearing salmonella bacteria. Most people recover without treatment after 4 to 7 days, according to the CDC.

Some people may experience a more severe illness that requires medical attention if they have a weakened immune system, especially children younger than 5 and adults 65 years and older.

From the CDC:

The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely much higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for Salmonella. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

The CDC recommends their website on salmonella for more answers.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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