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Mystery Canadian Salmonella Outbreak

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on April 9, 2019

A recent salmonella outbreak has infected six Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. While the source of the outbreak is yet to be determined and the investigation is ongoing, the Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, in order to contain the outbreak. Outbreak investigators are working hard to gather information, administer tests, and identify the source. Illnesses continue to be reported. So, what is the source of this mystery Canadian Salmonella Outbreak ?

What We Know

In response to the outbreak, the Public Health Agency of Canada issued a public health notice to inform Canadian citizens of the situation. The update revealed investigation findings to date, as well as important food handling practices to help prevent any more salmonella infections from happening.

According to the Canadian update, as of April 5, 2019, there were 63 laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella Enteritidis illness across six different Canadian provinces (23 in British Columbia, 10 in Alberta, 8 in Saskatchewan, 10 in Manitoba, 10 in Ontario, and 2 in Quebec). Per medical records, individuals fell ill between the dates of November 2018 and March 2019, though officials believe the outbreak is ongoing and could result in additional illnesses. According to the Canadian Public Health Notice, “It is possible that more recent illnesses may be reported in the outbreak because there is a period of time between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to public health officials. For this outbreak, the illness reporting period is between four and five weeks.”

The outbreak resulted in eight hospitalizations and two fatalities, though authorities have not yet concluded whether or not a salmonella infection was the cause of these two deaths or if some other health problem was at play. Patients ages range from 1 to 87 years old, and the majority of the case are female (57%).

Per the public health notice, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is conducting a thorough food safety investigation in order to identify the source of the outbreak. Should any contaminated foods be identified, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency “will take all necessary steps to protect the public,” which includes issuing a recall of any and all contaminated food products as necessary. As of April 5, 2019, no Food Recall Warnings associated with the outbreak had been issued.

About Salmonella

It’s important to note that anyone is susceptible to a salmonella infection and can become ill after exposure to the bacteria. However, infants, children under 5 years old, seniors, and anyone with preexisting health conditions or a weakened immune system are much more likely to contract the infection and have serious symptoms. While most people who experience a salmonella infection with recover on their own after a few days, others end up with more serious illnesses requiring hospital attention. Antibiotics might be required for recovery in more severe cases.

Symptoms of a salmonella infection are similar to other foodborne illnesses or stomach flus. Typically, symptoms begin six to 72 hours after exposure and can include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, abdominal cramping, headache, and more. These symptoms usually last between four and seven days. Anyone who experiences the symptoms of a salmonella infection, especially if they have an underlying medical condition, should contact their health provider immediately.

Since salmonella is undetectable to the naked eye and it can’t be tasted, it can be difficult to know whether or not a food product is contaminated. The best way to avoid a salmonella infection is to pay close attention to recent recalls and practice safe food handling techniques daily. According to the Canadian Public Health Notice, these are the bets food safety habits to follow in order to protect yourself and your family from a salmonella infection:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling and preparing food.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked foods such as meats, poultry, fish, shellfish and egg products.
  • Cook all raw foods such as meats, poultry, fish and eggs (including raw frozen food products) to a safe internal temperature to ensure that they are safe to eat. Use a digital food thermometer to verify the temperature. Insert the thermometer stem into the thickest part of the food, away from bone, fat or gristle. Make sure it is inserted all the way to the middle.
  • Microwave cooking of raw foods such as meats, poultry, fish and eggs (including raw frozen food products) is not recommended because of the possibility of uneven heating.
  • Use a separate plate, cutting board and utensils when handling raw meat or poultry products to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria like Salmonella.
  • Prevent cross-contamination: Do not re-use plates, cutting boards or utensils that have come in contact with raw meat and poultry products to serve the cooked product unless they have been thoroughly washed.
  • Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria, and avoid using sponges as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
  • Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food. Use a kitchen sanitizer (following the directions on the container) or a bleach solution (5 mL household bleach to 750 mL of water), and rinse with water.
  • Do not prepare food for other people if you think you are sick with a Salmonella infection or suffering from any other contagious illness causing diarrhea.

The Government of Canada remains committed to food safety, and as such, will continue to update the public on the state of the outbreak as new information is acquired and made available. Until then, be sure to follow food safety techniques and see your doctor if you experience any symptoms similar to a salmonella infection!

By: Abbey Ryan Elder, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)