June 24, 2019

Caramel Apple Listeria Outbreak Draws Varied State Responses

Minnesota, New Mexico, Utah and California are among the states to contribute their own public alerts and announcements about the caramel apple Listeria outbreak that has been associated with four deaths, three cases of bacterial meningitis and nine serious illnesses among pregnant women and babies. The visible involvement by health departments in those states to combat the outbreak and educate citizens stands in contrast to public silences kept by other states where people have been confirmed as case patients.

Caramel Apples Delux“States contributing to the public awareness of this outbreak are helping to save lives,” said Fred Pritzker, a food safety lawyer who represents Listeria outbreak victims. “They haven’t been afraid to stand behind their science and call out makers of commercially produced caramel apples.”

To be sure, outbreak warnings have been issued nationally by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the Minnesota Department of Health was the first public agency to announce the outbreak. In a December 18 press release, the agency announced that two Minnesotans had died and two others were hospitalized in an outbreak of listeriosis that officials associated with pre-packaged, commercially produced caramel apples. Moreover, the state said Minnesota case patients purchased caramel apples from Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike’s Discount Foods. The press release said the stores carried Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand caramel apples and noted that “other caramel apple brands” may be involved.

One day later, the CDC announced that people from 10 different states were sickened in the deadly outbreak. The agency recommended that U.S. consumers not eat any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings. That warning has remained in effect.

In New Mexico, where five people have been hospitalized with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes, Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward said officials were diligently trying to determine the scope of impaired carmel apple products. A news release from the New Mexico Department of Health said one of the five known victims in that state was a baby.

Utah issued a news release of its own saying the outbreak investigation was rapidly evolving and that new information will be provided as it becomes available. “The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) is alerting Utah grocery stores to pull from their shelves any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples that were distributed from out of state,” the news release said. “The UDAF advises consumers to look through their refrigerators and pantries for these products and discard them.”

California got involved on Christmas Day, issuing a news release warning consumers not to eat all varieties of Happy Apple Brand Caramel Apples because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The state said it was coordinating with the CDC and other state and local agencies to investigate the outbreak. A single case-patient in California died in the outbreak and attorneys there have filed a caramel apple Listeria lawsuit.

“Happy Apple Company, with manufacturing facilities in Orosi, California, and Union, Missouri, is voluntarily recalling all varieties of Happy Apple Brand Caramel Apples, after learning of the recall of apples used to produce the caramel apples by one of their apple suppliers,” the California Department of Public Health said in its announcement. It named 31 states, including Missouri with five case patients, where Happy Apple brand caramel apples were distributed. Another California company has since recalled all types of Karm’l Dapple carmel apples.

California officials said that consumers experiencing any ill effects after consuming caramel apple products should consult with their health care provider. The health agency also urged consumers to report any retailers if they observe the stores selling recalled caramel apples.

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