On July 21, 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) informed the public of an outbreak of Salmonella Newport infections.
On July 24th, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) informed the public of an outbreak of Salmonella Newport infections apparently caused by the same outbreak strain as CDC was finding in the United States.
At the time of the initial reports, neither agency had determined the source of the outbreak.
On July 30th, PHAC updated its outbreak advisory, informing Canadians that the outbreak was linked to consumtion of red onions imported from the United States. That same day, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) posted a recall notice for red onions imported by Sysco in Western Canada.
Using the Canadian data as its starting point, on July 31st, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC announced that the US outbreak was linked to consumption of red onions produced by Thomson International, Inc. of Bakersfield, California.
Thomson International is a family-owned business, incorporated in California.
On August 1st, Thomson recalled its entire harvest of red, yellow, white, and sweet yellow onions from the 2020 growing season – approximately 18,750 tons of onions. The onions were distributed across the United States and exported to Canada.
CDC issued status updates of the size and scope of the US outbreak on August 3rd, August 7th, August 18th and September 1st, and has not been heard from since.
PHAC issued status updates of the size and scope of the Canadian outbreak on August 2nd, August 7th, August 14th, August 21st, August 31st and September 14th.
By August 7th, FDA had initiated its on-site investigation of Thomson’s Bakersfield facility, looking for the source of the Salmonella Newport contamination. By August 11th, FDA personnel had submitted 370 samples to the agency’s lab for Salmonella testing, including 278 swab samples, 82 onion samples, and 10 miscellaneous environmental samples, according to information obtained by eFoodAlert in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Not a single sample contained Salmonella.
The FDA investigation is still in progress. However, with the growing season complete and the packing plant idle, the chances of finding the source of the Salmonella Newport diminish day by day.
As of the last report from CDC, 1012 individuals in 47 states have been infected with Salmonella Newport as a result of having consumed contaminated onions. Only Louisiana, Oklahoma and Vermont have not reported any outbreak cases. Although there have been no deaths associated with this outbreak, 136 (more than 13%) of the victims have required a hospital stay.
In Canada, there have been 506 confirmed cases of Salmonella Newport in seven provinces, and 71 people (14%) have been hospitalized.
Canada v. USA – A Performance Comparison
Why was CDC unable to determine the link between red onions and the Salmonella Newport outbreak until after PHAC had made the connection?
Why has CDC not provided an update to its outbreak status report in three weeks?
Why does Canada appear to have been much harder hit by this outbreak than the United States – 13.7 cases per million Canadians versus only 3.1 per million Americans? Is this due to some quirk of distribution, or have PHAC and its provincial partners done a better job of reporting than CDC and the various state health agencies?
Has the Covid-19 pandemic hit CDC so hard that it no longer has the resources to follow-up on illness outbreaks elsewhere?
IF CDC IS MISSING IN ACTION, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF THE US POPULATION?
2 thoughts on “Thomson Onion Salmonella Outbreak: Is CDC Missing in Action?”
Unless Thomson’s operations were egregiously negligent, FDA’s usual approach would be to work with the company to effect any necessary improvements. FDA last inspected Thomson back in 2013 and gave the company a clean bill of health.
I’m guessing that the Salmonella got into the onions while they were in the field or during harvesting operations. It’s very difficult to find the microbe on harvesting or production equipment after a growing season is complete and the equipment has been cleaned. Unless FDA manages to find the Salmonella in soil samples or irrigation canal samples, there’s really not much that can be done.
This won’t be the first time that the “root cause” of an outbreak remains undetermined.
I’ve wondering why there hasn’t been some movement against them too.