Health departments in several states have reported caramel apples tainted with a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes (listeriosis). The apples are prepackaged. Listeria can cause serious, life-threatening illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are issuing warnings about the caramel apples. The CDC provides these warnings:
- 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.
- The warning is applicable to caramel apples that were produced in the fall, and that were sold in grocery stores and other retailers nationwide.
The investigation of the outbreak “is rapidly evolving,” according to CDC and the agency will keep consumers up to date as soon as new information is available.
Since December 18, 2014, 28 people have become infected with Listeria monocytogenes in 10 states. Twenty-six people have been hospitalized, and five deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to at least four of these deaths.
Three cases of meningitis have occurred among otherwise healthy children aged 5 to 15 years old.
Fifteen (83 percent) of 18 ill people ate the caramel apples before becoming ill. There has been no illness related to the outbreak linked to plain apples without caramel coating, to caramel apples that are not prepackaged, or to any type of caramel candy.
The symptoms of listeriosis are fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, and fever and chills, according to the FDA. Anyone who develops those symptoms after eating prepackaged caramel apples should seek medical care. Symptoms appear from a few days to a few weeks after eating a contaminated food.
Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups, such as the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems (such as HIV) and with chronic medical conditions (such as cancer). Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature labor in pregnant women. It can cause serious illness or death in newborn babies.
Listeria monocytogenes can grow at refrigerator temperatures, as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). Food that is stored for long periods in the refrigerator are most prone to becoming contaminated with Listeria, according to the FDA.
The FDA also recommends these food safety tips:
• Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds or more before and after handling food.
• Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
• Wash hands with warm water and soap after cleaning the refrigerator or surfaces or handling foods.
The CDC recommends thoroughly washing and drying fruits and vegetables before eating to reduce the risk of listeriosis. Also separate cooked and uncooked foods in the refrigerator.