Prepackaged caramel apples linked to 5 deaths, illnesses in NM

Microbiologist Ashley Sabol, left, and Katie Roache prepare to extract Listeria bacteria for genome sequencing in a foodborne disease outbreak lab at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — Health officials say prepackaged caramel apples are linked to five deaths and more than two dozen illnesses in 10 states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says investigators are trying to determine the specific brands that were involved. But consumers are being warned not to eat prepackaged caramel apples until more is known.

The CDC says it knows of 28 cases in which people were sickened by a form of bacterial food poisoning called listeria, with 26 hospitalized. They got sick between Oct. 17 and Nov. 27. CDC said it’s possible other illnesses have occurred since then.

Two of the deaths were in Minnesota, according to state health officials. The CDC said the illnesses also occurred in Arizona, California, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and about 5 cases in New Mexico.

The information CDC has at this time indicates that commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may be contaminated with Listeria and may be causing this outbreak.

Outbreak Facts from the CDC

  • Out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends that U.S. consumers 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.
  • Although caramel apples are often a fall seasonal product, contaminated commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may still be for sale at grocery stores and other retailers nationwide or may be in consumers’ homes.
  • This investigation is rapidly evolving. New information will be provided as it becomes available.
  • As of December 18, 26 ill people have been hospitalized. Among the 26 people hospitalized, five deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to at least four of these deaths.
  • To date, 15 (83%) of the 18 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill.
  • At this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.

The CDC said the investigation into the deaths and illnesses is “rapidly evolving.” Christopher Braden, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said the agency is still trying to determine which brands are involved and how caramel apples may have become infected. He said there is no reason at this point to stop eating apples or other caramel products.

Nine of the illnesses involved either a pregnant woman or an infant, the CDC said.

Braden said there may have been more illnesses in children because kids are more likely to eat caramel apples, or possibly because the apples were heavily contaminated.

Braden said anyone with commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples at home should throw them away, taking care to wrap them up well so animals or people going through trash don’t eat them.

Persons infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes, by state of residence, as of December 18, 2014 (n=28) (CDC)
Persons infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes, by state of residence, as of December 18, 2014 (n=28) (CDC)

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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