The onion recall has reached new heights. Or possibly new lows. It is a subterranean item, after all.
On August 1st, the FDA posted a recall of onions due to possible salmonella contamination. That recall has been expanded several times, with “possible” contamination confirmed in hundreds of cases across the country. This week, that recall extended to prepared onions, including premade foods and meal kits.
The initial recall came from Thomson International, a large grower in Kern County, California. It was an unusually large recall for such an essential crop, covering white, yellow, and red onions sold to all 50 states as well as several provinces in Canada. Thomson is primarily a wholesaler, selling bulk onions to restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturers, which means that it’s likely you’ve never bought a Thomson-branded onion, even though it’s very likely you’ve eaten one.
This week, the FDA and CDC warnings against eating Thomson-grown onions extended to premade foods and meal kits. Dips, salads, sandwiches, and other premade foods sold in grocery stores including Kroger, Walmart, and Giant Eagle are now included in the warnings, due to their inclusion of Thomson onions. HelloFresh, the meal kit service, was informed that many of its kits include Thomson onions; the company advises customers to discard any onion or onion-including products purchased between May 8th and July 31st.
The list of affected products is gigantic; onions are delicious and make things taste better, which means that a widespread onion recall is much larger than, say, a romaine lettuce recall. You can see a complete list of recalled products over at the CDC.
As of August 18th, the CDC reports that this onion contamination has resulted in 869 reported cases, 116 of which required hospitalization—not ideal during a time of reduced hospital space and resources thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. No deaths have been reported so far, but these cases have been found in 47 states. (The only states to not report a case are Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Vermont, reports USA Today.)
It’s not clear yet how this widespread contamination happened. Salmonella can be killed by raising its temperature to 165 degrees. This works fine for poultry, which is never served raw or really ever cooked under that temperature in the United States. Onions, though, are often eaten raw or only lightly cooked, which can allow the salmonella bacteria to survive.
Because Thomson is such a large company and because its onions are rarely branded as such, exercise extreme caution when buying or eating onions. Given the season, now is probably the time to eat onions from the farmers market if possible.