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Multistate listeriosis outbreak linked to caramel apples

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Health care officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Epidemiology (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia are collaborating with public health officials in several states, including Texas, and with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections. Listeriosis, a serious, life-threatening illness, has been linked to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples.
Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
Current information from the CDC indicates that caramel apples from three companies may be contaminated with Listeria and may be causing this outbreak. The companies, Happy Apples, California Snack Foods and Merb's Candies enacted voluntary recalls of their caramel apples after learning that a connection may exist between apples supplied by Bidart Brothers and the listeriosis outbreak.
Investigators continue to work to identify if any other brands or types of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may be linked to illnesses.
Until more specific guidance can be provided, CDC healthcare officials recommend that consumers in the United States do not eat any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate or other toppings.
Although caramel apples are usually a fall seasonal product, potentially contaminated caramel apples may still be for sale at grocery stores and other retailers nationwide or may be in consumers' homes.
As of December 30, 2014, a total of 32 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported in 11 states, including four in Texas. Other states affected include Arizona, 4; California, 2; Minnesota, 4; Missouri, 5; Nevada, 1; New Mexico, 6; North Carolina, 1; Utah, 1; Washington, 1; and Wisconsin, 3.
Thirty-one ill people have been hospitalized and six deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to three of these deaths and it is unclear whether it contributed to an additional two deaths. The sixth death was unrelated to listeriosis.
Ten illnesses were pregnancy-related with one illness resulting in a fetal loss. Three invasive illnesses - meningitis - were reported among otherwise healthy children aged five to 15 years.
To date, 23 of the 26 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill. At this time, however, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.
This investigation is rapidly evolving, and new information will be provided as it becomes available.