7 dead, 28 sick including a ‘fetal loss’ Listeria in apples, who knew?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports, this outbreak appears to be over. However, recalled products may still be in people’s homes. Consumers unaware of the recalls could continue to eat the products and get sick.

apples-granny-smith-165384On January 6, 2015, Bidart Bros. of Bakersfield, California voluntarily recalled Granny Smith and Gala apples because environmental testing revealed contamination with Listeria monocytogenes at the firm’s apple-packing facility.

On January 18, 2015, FDA laboratory analyses using whole genome sequencing (WGS) showed that these Listeria isolates were highly related to the outbreak strains.

Happy Apples, California Snack Foods, and Merb’s Candies each announced a voluntary recall of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples.

A total of 35 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes were reported from 12 states.

Of these, 34 people were hospitalized. Listeriosis contributed to at least three of the seven deaths reported.

Eleven illnesses were pregnancy-related (occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant), with one illness resulting in a fetal loss (A fetal loss? Who writes this stuff?).

Three invasive illnesses (meningitis) were among otherwise healthy children aged 5–15 years.

Twenty-eight (90%) of the 31 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) identified one case of listeriosis in Canada that is genetically related to the U.S. outbreak.

7 dead, 34 sick from Listeria: US apple industry works to limit recall damage

The Listeria outbreak that lead Bidart Bros. to recall of all of its granny smiths and galas spurred industry representatives to travel to Washington D.C. for damage control meetings recently, writes Coral Beach of The Packer.

apples-granny-smith-165384Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission, said he and officials from other apple organizations met with members of Congress the last week of January. They also met with people at the Food and Drug Administration, Commerce Department, U.S. Trade Representative office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

One concern Ott said they discussed with FDA officials is how the agency shares — and does not share — information after a recall is announced.

“They are quick to send out initial information,” Ott said, “but they aren’t so quick with the follow ups.”

Ott said the FDA’s “no comment” policy during investigations fans the flames of media hysteria like that seen in Malaysia and other Asian countries, which have enacted restrictions on U.S. apples not included in the recall.

FDA spokesman Doug Karas said the agency has made it clear the recall related to the listeria outbreak involves only galas and granny smiths from Bidart Bros., Shafter, Calif. Seven people who were infected with the outbreak strains of listeria have died.

The outbreak has sickened 32 people in 11 states, with 31 of them requiring hospitalization, according to the most recent update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Jan. 10. Canadian officials report two people there have been confirmed with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes.

Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., said the organization is looking forward while waiting on final reports from FDA and CDC.

gala.apples“(We have) already begun looking forward to next steps and what our industry can do to prevent further instances,” Bair said. “We are considering what measures we can take to best serve the industry in providing relevant information to prevent future concerns.”

Officials with apple organizations in New York and Michigan either declined comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Let’s do the time warp again: Baugher’s to pasteurize cider after E. coli outbreak

In October, 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, Calif. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider –and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believe that some of the apples used to make the cider may have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

In the fall of 1998, I accompanied one of my four daughters on a kindergarten trip to the farm. After petting the animals and touring the crops –I questioned the fresh manure on the strawberries –we were assured that all the food produced was natural. We then returned for unpasteurized apple cider. The host served the cider in a coffee urn, heated, so my concern about it being unpasteurized was abated. I asked: "Did you serve the cider heated because you heard about other outbreaks and were concerned about liability?" She responded, "No. The stuff starts to smell when it’s a few weeks old and heating removes the smell."

Yesterday, Baugher’s Orchard and Farm in Westminster, Maryland, announced to local fanfare – and some customer distress — that it will change the way it produces apple cider in the future after E. coli infections were linked to the product this fall.

Dr. David Blythe, medical epidemiologist from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said environmental and product testing of the apple cider was conducted in November and December in an attempt to confirm a link between seven cases of a specific strain of E. coli infections that began appearing in mid-October that was believed to be associated with the consumption of Baugher’s unpasteurized apple cider.

Three of the seven cases resulted in hospitalization. Five of the seven cases were children younger than 18. All afflicted people recovered and those hospitalized were discharged, Frances Phillips, Deputy Secretary for Public Health from the DHMH said.

Blythe said the E. coli strain was not found in any of the tested samples, but that they were not able to test from the batch of apple cider that is suspected of causing the sickness.

Though they cannot make any conclusions from the testing, Blythe said the information collected, like interviews from those affected by the E. coli strain, still points to the apple cider as what made people sick.

Dwight Baugher, farm manager, said they are not currently making any apple cider. The company typically makes cider from about mid-September through mid-March.

"There’s no way of knowing if we had anything to do with it," he said.

Though they have not found out the source of the E. coli strain, they are working on changing the apple cider production process to include pasteurization.