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Alberta lawyers file class-action lawsuit after Salmonella outbreak linked to U.S. onions

Click to play video 'Onion salmonella outbreak expands' Onion salmonella outbreak expands
WATCH (Aug. 22): A salmonella outbreak linked to U.S. grown onions is prompting some experts to suggest Canadians seek out new sources of flavour. Keith Warriner, a food science professor at the University of Guelph, shares his expert insight. – Aug 22, 2020

An Edmonton lawyer is handling a class-action lawsuit against a California company at the centre of an onion recall this summer.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said a Salmonella outbreak involving red onions imported from the United States made 515 people sick.

READ MORE: 100 more Canadians fall ill from Salmonella after eating U.S.-grown onions

“This is the largest onion recall in Canadian history and one of the most widespread food poisoning cases,” Rick Mallett, with James H. Brown & Associates, told Global News on Monday.

The PHAC closed its investigation on Oct. 1, saying in total, there were 515 confirmed cases of Salmonella Newport illness linked to this outbreak in the following provinces: British Columbia (121), Alberta (293), Saskatchewan (35), Manitoba (26), Ontario (14), Quebec (25) and Prince Edward Island (1).

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“The actual number will likely be two to three times higher as many people are often ill but not specifically identified,” Mallett said.

Read more: Onion recall expands across Canada; 17 hospitalizations linked to salmonella

On July 30, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a food recall warning for onions and “related” products exported to Canada.

Officials urged those living in Canada to avoid eating, using, selling or serving red, white, yellow, and sweet yellow onions from Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, Calif., “or any products made with these onions.”

Onions grown in Canada were not associated with this outbreak, PHAC said.

Individuals became sick between mid-June and late-August, PHAC said. Seventy-nine individuals were hospitalized.

“Three people died, but Salmonella did not contribute to the cause of these deaths,” the agency said.

Individuals who became ill were between 1 and 100 years of age. People who were sick reported eating red onions at home, in menu items ordered at restaurants and in residential care settings, PHAC said.

Read more: 506 people affected by Salmonella outbreak linked to U.S. onions, PHAC says

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Sydonni Allridge, from Sherwood Park, was ordering food from the same restaurant every day in the first week of August.

“I just felt really sick,” she said. “I went to the hospital the week after and I did tests and when it came back, a few days after, they said to me that I had Samonella poisoning.”

She then received a call from Health Canada, answered some questions, and was able to trace what she ate and where. The agency tested the onions at the fast food restaurant and found they were contaminated.

Click to play video 'Onion recall linked to salmonella outbreak expanded' Onion recall linked to salmonella outbreak expanded
Onion recall linked to salmonella outbreak expanded – Aug 4, 2020

Allridge said she had an allergic reaction to the first course of antibiotics she was prescribed and was given a second seven-day course. Nearly three weeks later, she was still feeling sick and went back to the hospital for more tests, which showed she still had Salmonella, she said. Allridge was prescribed a 14-day course of antibiotics.

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“I was sick for a month and a half… throwing up, going to the bathroom… I really didn’t even leave my house.

“I still have a little bit of symptoms,” she said on Monday.

Click to play video 'Salmonella outbreak in the U.S. and Canada may be linked to red onions' Salmonella outbreak in the U.S. and Canada may be linked to red onions
Salmonella outbreak in the U.S. and Canada may be linked to red onions – Jul 31, 2020

According to the PHAC, Salmonella is a common infection that occurs between six and 72 hours after a person has been exposed to bacteria from “an infected animal, person or contaminated product.”

Symptoms typically last between four and seven days, and can include fever, chills, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches and abdominal cramps.

“A Salmonella infection can be complex,” Mallet said. “Some people will recover within a few days and other will require hospitalization and have long-term health consequences. These can include irritable bowel issues, gastrointestinal problems and even a form of reactive arthritis that affects the joints.”

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Read more: $15M class-action lawsuit filed against Alberta slaughterhouse linked to E. Coli outbreak

Everyone who ate the contaminated onions and became sick would be included in the class-action lawsuit unless they choose to opt out, he explained.

“A class action is ideal as it would be very expensive and difficult for a person to pursue an individual claim,” Mallet added.

“With a class action, individual class members do not have to pay a retainer fee or up-front costs and all can benefit from a settlement. There is strength as a group and the U.S. company has to take notice.”

He said dealing with a U.S. company creates some cross-border issues but James H. Brown & Associates has had previous success in cases with U.S. companies.

Once Thompson is served, the next step will be to have the lawsuit assigned to a case management judge through the courts in Edmonton.

He expects the entire legal process to take between six and 18 months.

Guardian Law in Calgary is serving as co-counsel.