Listeria traced to onions possibly served at RI Veterans Home cookout

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Some uncooked onions served at a Rhode Island Veterans Home cookout last Friday came from the same lot of onions that tested positive for listeria.

On Sept. 7, the food supply company US Foods contacted the dietary supervisor for the Rhode Island Veterans Home with bad news: some onions from the food supplier had tested positive for listeria. The onions delivered on Sept. 6 to the Veterans Home and later served at the cookout for residents, family and friends and staff members, had come from the same lot that had been tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 11, no illnesses had been reported at the home.

The Rhode Island Department of Health is advising residents of the Veterans Home, volunteers, family and friends and anyone else who attended the cookout and ate the uncooked onions to be aware that they may have been exposed to listeria monocytogenes.

Symptoms of listeriosis can include high fever, severe headache, stiffness and nausea, or abdominal pain and diarrhea. Pregnant women, young children, and frail and elderly persons are particularly at risk. Anyone who ate these onions and experiences these symptoms within the next 70 days should contact their healthcare provider, stated the press release from the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Fred Sneesby, a public information officer for the Department of Human Services which oversees the Division of Veterans Affairs, said it was unclear how many people attended the Sept. 7 cookout at the Veterans Home.

He said his department was especially concerned about a situation like this because of the health condition of some of the Veterans Home residents.

“Certainly, that’s why we’re as concerned and being as vigilant about this,” he said. “The staff is monitoring all the residents. The administration is keeping in touch with the staff.”

Mr. Sneesby said the Veterans Home was alerted to the onions just hours after the cookout concluded, and emphasized the fact that only one positive result for listeria came back from what was likely a large lot of onions tested.

“There’s a slight chance they may have been tainted,” he said, adding that once officials learned about the listeria they removed all remaining onions and “destroyed them.”

None of the recalled foods are available at retail, according to U.S. Foods. Visit www.cdc.gov/listeria/definition.html for more information about listeria.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.