5 dead, 29 sick: Prepackaged caramel apples as a source of Listeria, what was the source?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its information on listeria in caramel apples outbreak, as the first lawsuit was filed.

  • caramel.appleCDC is collaborating with public health officials in several states and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections (listeriosis) linked to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples. Listeria can cause a serious, life-threatening illness.
  • The information CDC has at this time indicates that commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may be contaminated with Listeria and may be causing this outbreak.
  • Out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends that U.S. consumers do not eat any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, until more specific guidance can be provided.
  • Although caramel apples are often a fall seasonal product, contaminated commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may still be for sale at grocery stores and other retailers nationwide or may be in consumers’ homes.
  • This investigation is rapidly evolving. New information will be provided as it becomes available.
  • As of December 22, 2014, a total of 29 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 10 states.
  • All 29 ill people have been hospitalized and, five deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to three of these deaths and it is unclear whether it contributed to a fourth. The fifth death was unrelated to listeriosis.
  • Nine illnesses were pregnancy-related (occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant).
  • Three invasive illnesses (meningitis) were among otherwise healthy children aged 5–15 years.
  • To date, 20 (87%) of the 23 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill.
  • At this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.
  • Investigators are working quickly to determine specific brands or types of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples that may be linked to illnesses and to identify the source of contamination.
  • This investigation is rapidly evolving, and new information will be provided as it becomes available.

The family of a California woman whose death was linked to the prepackaged caramel apples is suing the Safeway grocery chain for selling her the product.

listeria4The lawsuit filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court Monday alleges that 81-year-old Shirlee Jean Frey bought caramel apples from a Safeway in Felton a few days before Halloween. She died on Dec. 2 after suffering from a listeria infection.

Frey’s family said health officials confirmed she was sickened with the same strains of listeria as four others whose deaths were linked to the caramel apples.

Safeway responded by pulling caramel apples off shelves as precaution.

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, barfblog.com retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 dpowell29@gmail.com 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time