The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies are investigating a serious multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infection linked to caramel-coated apple products.
The outbreak has so far affected 32 people in 11 states and 31 of those have been hospitalised. Seven deaths have been recorded and listeriosis is thought to have contributed to at least three of these. Ten of the cases occurred in pregnant women, with one resulting in the loss of the foetus. Two further cases caused by the outbreak strain of Listeria have been reported in Canada.
Most of the people affected by the outbreak reported eating commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel-coated apples before becoming ill. A number of different brands were named, including Happy Apple, Carnival and Merb’s Candies, and three companies have issued voluntary product recalls in response. These are Happy Apple Company, California Snack Foods and Merb’s Candies.
Further investigation has revealed that a single apple supplier, Bidart Bros., of Bakersfield, California, is the likely link between the implicated companies. Bidart Bros. is the only apple supplier common to both Happy Apple and Merb’s candies. An investigation at the company’s processing plant found Listeria monocytogenes with a genetic fingerprint identical to that of the outbreak strain in environmental samples. The same strain was also isolated from whole Bidart Bros. apples sampled from the distribution chain.
Bidart Bros. voluntarily recalled apples sent to customers producing caramel-coated apples in late December 2014 and has now expanded the recall to include all Granny Smith and Gala variety apples shipped from its Shafter, California packing operation in 2014.
The outbreak investigation is continuing and more details can be found here.