Four deaths and more than two dozen illnesses have prompted health officials to warn consumers to avoid prepackaged caramel apples, which may be contaminated with listeria.
Caramel apples are most widely available around Halloween, and the outbreak started in mid-October. Commercially produced caramel apples can have a shelf life of a month or more, so some of the contaminated apples may still be on store shelves, the New York Daily News reports.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) knows of 28 cases of people sickened with the same strains of listeria. At least 26 people were hospitalized and five died. Listeriosis contributed to four of the deaths; though a fifth person who died had the listeria strain linked to the caramel apples, health officials do not think listeriosis caused that individual’s death, according to the Daily News. The CDC said more than 80 percent of people interviewed reported eating commercial caramel apples before getting sick.
Christopher Braden, a CDC epidemiologist said the CDC is still trying to determine which brands are involved and how caramel apples may have become contaminated. At this point, he said, there is no reason to stop eating plain apples or other caramel products.
Listeria is especially dangerous to pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. It rarely causes serious illness in healthy people and can be treated with antibiotics. But it is especially dangerous for a pregnant woman and can lead to miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirth. And even if she has no smptoms, she can pass the illness to her unborn child. In 2011, an outbreak of listeriosis linked to cantaloupe 2011 caused 33 deaths, the Daily News reports.
In Minnesota, where two of the death occurred, health officials say those who fell ill purchased Carnival and Kitchen Cravings caramel apples from Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike’s Discount Foods. The Minnesota Department of Health said these apples are no longer available. The other two deaths occurred in Texas and California, and people became ill in Arizona, California, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The CDC advises consumers to throw away any prepackaged caramel apples they have, wrapping them so that animals or people going through the trash do not eat them.