Public Health Notice - Outbreak of Salmonella infections possibly linked to long English cucumbers

December 12, 2018 – Final Update

This is the final update for this outbreak. The outbreak appears to be over, and the investigation has been closed. Although the outbreak appears to be over, the Public Health Agency of Canada advises Canadians to always follow safe food handling tips.

Why you should take note

The Public Health Agency of Canada collaborated with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada to investigate an outbreak of Salmonella infections that involved five provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec. The illness reported in Quebec was related to travel to British Columbia.

Based on the investigation findings during the outbreak, exposure to long English cucumbers was identified as the likely source of the outbreak, but the cause of contamination was not identified. No individuals have become sick since late October 2018. As a result, the outbreak appears to be over, and the investigation has been closed.

Investigation summary

In total, there were 56 laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella Infantis reported in British Columbia (47), Alberta (5), Saskatchewan (1), Manitoba (2), and Quebec (1). The individual from Quebec reported travelling to British Columbia before becoming ill. Individuals became sick between mid-June and late-October 2018. Eleven individuals were hospitalized. No deaths were reported. Individuals who became ill were between 1 and 92 years of age. The majority of cases (61%) were female.

Most of the individuals who became sick reported eating long English cucumbers before their illnesses occurred. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency worked with public health officials to determine the source of the long English cucumbers that ill individuals were exposed to. As part of the food safety investigation into the source of contamination, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested various long English cucumbers samples for the presence of Salmonella. All food samples tested negative and no source of contamination was identified.

Who is most at risk

Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile.

Most people who become ill from a Salmonella infection will recover fully after a few days. It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

What you should do to protect your health

It is difficult to know whether a product is contaminated with Salmonella because you can't see, smell or taste it. To help prevent Salmonella infections, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends following safe food handling tips. The following tips for preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, including long English cucumbers, may help reduce your risk of getting sick, but they may not fully eliminate the risk of illness.

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce.
  • Cut away any bruised or damaged areas on fresh produce, since harmful bacteria can thrive in these areas. Be sure to clean your knife with hot water and soap before using it again.
  • Wash fresh produce thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present.
  • Don't soak fresh produce in a sink full of water. It can become contaminated by bacteria in the sink.
  • Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces like cucumbers, oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots. It is not necessary to use produce cleansers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Use one cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
  • Place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on a separate clean plate or in a container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
  • 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.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, called salmonellosis, typically start six to 72 hours after exposure to Salmonella bacteria from an infected animal or contaminated product.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting

These symptoms usually last for four to seven days. In healthy people, salmonellosis often clears up without treatment. In some cases, severe illness and hospitalization may occur. In some cases, antibiotics may be required. People who are infected with Salmonella bacteria can be infectious from several days to several weeks. People who experience symptoms, or who have underlying medical conditions, should contact their health care provider if they suspect they have a Salmonella infection.

What the Government of Canada is doing

The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. The Public Health Agency of Canada leads the human health investigation into an outbreak and is in regular contact with its federal, provincial and territorial partners to monitor the situation and to collaborate on steps to address an outbreak.

Health Canada provides food-related health risk assessments to determine whether the presence of a certain substance or microorganism poses a health risk to consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducts food safety investigations into the possible food source of an outbreak.

The Government of Canada will continue to update Canadians if new information related to these investigations becomes available.

Epidemiological information

Figure 1 below is an epi curve for this outbreak. This information was used by outbreak investigators to show when illnesses began, when they peaked, and when they trailed off. It can take several weeks from the time a person becomes ill to when the illness is reported and testing confirms a link to the outbreak. Data are available for 56 cases.

Figure 1: Number of people infected with Salmonella Infantis

figure 1

Figure 1: Text description
Table 1 – Number of people confirmed to be infected with Salmonella Infantis by week of illness onset or specimen collection
Week of symptom onset or  specimen collection Number of cases
2018-06-17 1
2018-06-24 0
2018-07-01 1
2018-07-08 0
2018-07-15 0
2018-07-22 0
2018-07-29 2
2018-08-05 4
2018-08-12 1
2018-08-19 18
2018-08-26 10
2018-09-02 5
2018-09-09 5
2018-09-16 2
2018-09-23 3
2018-09-30 1
2018-10-07 2
2018-10-14 0
2018-10-21 0
2018-10-28 1
2018-11-04 0

Additional information

Media Contact

Public Health Agency of Canada

Media Relations
(613) 957-2983
hc.media.sc@canada.ca

Public Inquiries

Call toll-free: 1-866-225-0709
Email: info@hc-sc.gc.ca

Investigation History

Public Health Notice – November 27, 2018

Why you should take note

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada to investigate an outbreak of Salmonella infections involving five provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec. The illness reported in Quebec was related to travel to British Columbia. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that residents in eastern Canada are affected by this outbreak.

Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to long English cucumbers has been identified as the likely source of the outbreak. Many of the individuals who became sick reported eating long English cucumbers before their illness. However, more information is needed to determine the possible causes of contamination.

The outbreak investigation remains active, but there has been a decrease in the number of cases being reported, which indicates that the outbreak appears to be winding down. Some illnesses may not be reported yet because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to public health officials. This period of time is called the case reporting delay. In national outbreak investigations, the case reporting delay is usually between 5 and 6 weeks.

The Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to monitor for new cases. This public health notice will be updated if there is any new information about the source of contamination or when the investigation closes.

Investigation summary

As of November 27, 2018, there have been 55 laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella Infantis illness investigated in the following provinces: British Columbia (47), Alberta (5), Saskatchewan (1), Manitoba (1), and Quebec (1). The individual from Quebec reported traveling to British Columbia before becoming ill. Individuals became sick between mid-June and late-October 2018. Eleven individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Individuals who became ill are between 1 and 92 years of age. The majority of cases (60%) are female.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to collaborate with the overall outbreak investigation. If contaminated food products are identified, they will take the necessary steps to protect the public, including recalling the product as required. Currently there are no Food Recall Warnings associated with this outbreak.

Public Health Notice – November 2, 2018

Why you should take note

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada to investigate an outbreak of Salmonella infections involving five provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec. The illness reported in Quebec was related to travel to British Columbia.

Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to long English cucumbers has been identified as the likely source of the outbreak. Many of the individuals who became sick reported eating long English cucumbers before their illness. However, more information is needed to determine the possible causes of contamination. The outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is issuing this updated public health notice to inform residents in western Canada of the investigation findings to date and to share important safe food handling practices to help prevent further Salmonella infections. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that residents in eastern Canada are affected by this outbreak.

This public health notice will be updated on a regular basis as the investigation evolves.

Investigation summary

As of November 2, 2018, there have been 50 laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella Infantis illness investigated in the following provinces: British Columbia (42), Alberta (5), Saskatchewan (1), Manitoba (1), and Quebec (1). The individual from Quebec reported traveling to British Columbia before becoming ill. Individuals became sick between mid-June and early-October 2018. Ten individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Individuals who became ill are between 1 and 92 years of age. The majority of cases (58%) are female.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to collaborate with the overall outbreak investigation. If contaminated food products are identified, they will take the necessary steps to protect the public, including recalling the product as required. Currently there are no Food Recall Warnings associated with this outbreak.

Public Health Notice – October 19, 2018

Why you should take note

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada to investigate an outbreak of Salmonella infections involving five provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec. The illness reported in Quebec was related to travel to British Columbia.

The source of the outbreak has not been identified and the investigation is ongoing. Outbreak investigators are gathering information on possible sources and possible ways contamination may have occurred. Many of the individuals who became sick reported eating cucumbers before their illness. However, other potential sources of illness are also being considered. More information is needed to determine the source of the outbreak. The outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported.

Given the evolving nature of this outbreak, the Public Health Agency of Canada is issuing this public health notice to inform residents in western Canada of the investigation findings to date and to share important safe food handling practices to help prevent further Salmonella infections. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that residents in central and eastern Canada are affected by this outbreak.

This public health notice will be updated on a regular basis as the investigation evolves.

Investigation summary

As of October 19, 2018, there have been 45 laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella Infantis illness investigated in the following provinces: British Columbia (37), Alberta (5), Saskatchewan (1), Manitoba (1), and Quebec (1). The individual from Quebec reported traveling to British Columbia before becoming ill. Individuals became sick between mid-June and late-September 2018. Nine individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Individuals who became ill are between 1 and 92 years of age. The majority of cases (58%) are female.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is conducting a food safety investigation. If contaminated food products are identified, they will take the necessary steps to protect the public, including recalling the product as required. Currently there are no Food Recall Warnings associated with this outbreak.

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