Consumers are being warned by health officials, to avoid caramel coated apples after the sweet treats were linked to deaths of at least four people after a deadly Listeria outbreak. U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officers reported that the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause life-threatening illness, has infected as many as 28 people in different states including Texas, Arizona and Minnesota.
Although the outbreak has affected people between the ages of seven and 92, Minnesota officials said the four people who had who had eaten contaminated apples in Minnesota were between 59 and 90 years old. The illnesses occurred between Oct. 17 and Nov. 27 this year. Two of the infected people later died. CDC officials have also said that one death occurred in Texas.
Out of the 28 cases of illness from the same strain of bacteria, 26 people have been hospitalized. Among them is a teenage boy from Thurston County, WA. Across the country, three children between the ages of five and 15 have developed severe meningitis symptoms. The outbreak believed to be responsible for the illnesses has now been reported across 10 states.
Health departments have issued advice that commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel coated apples should not be eaten until more information is available. They said the warning included apples which were topped with chocolate, nuts and sprinkles.
CDC officials say they have not identified any particular brands or manufacturers in relation to the tainted products, but due to possible links to the listeria deaths, they have issued a warning for consumers to avoid eating any of the caramel coated apples until the rapidly evolving investigation is complete. The officials have said in a statement that caramel coated apples are usually a fall product, but due to their shelf-life they may still be available in stores, or may still be in people’s homes.
According to the Seattle Times, the bacteria was identified as being associated with the caramel apples through the national PulseNet system which identifies bugs through genetic fingerprinting. They said that two clusters of listeria were identified in connection to the apples. Of the sick people who were interviewed, 83 percent said they had eaten prepackaged caramel coated apples before becoming sick.
Listeriosis is a disease which usually occurs when a person has ingested the bacteria listeria monocytogenes. The disease is particularly harmful to pregnant woman, elderly people, and any other people who’s immune system is already vulnerable. Common symptoms of the infection include fever, muscular pain and gastrointestinal illness. Bacterial meningitis or echephalitis can result in severe cases.
An infectious disease expert from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Doctor William Schaffner, said the bacteria outbreak is particularly concerning due to the fact that Listeriosis can have an incubation period lasting from three to 70 days. He added that people would be likely to store the caramel apples in their fridge for extended periods. “We can anticipate that more illnesses will occur over time,” he said.
Seattle food-safety lawyer Bill Marler said the listeria bacteria’s growth is not inhibited by refrigeration, making it particularly difficult to control. Both CDC and Minnesota health officials are urging consumers to discard any uneaten caramel coated apples due to the product’s link to the recent deaths from listeria.
By Monica Grant
San Francisco Chronicle
Photo by Katrina Koger – Flickr License