June 2, 2023

Bidart Brothers and the Caramel Apple Listeria Investigation

Food safety investigators in the United States are still probing to decipher what caused the deadly outbreak of Listeria poisoning associated with commercially made caramel apples, including whether there are common sources of caramel, caramel ingredients, sticks, or packaging to the various makers of these caramel apples. So far, the biggest common denominator between companies involved in the recall of potentially contaminated caramel apples is Bidart Brothers, the fruit supplier.

Caramel ApplesBased on documents released so far by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California-based Bidart Bros. was first briefed about its possible involvement in the outbreak by FDA officials on December 22. On that same day, the company issued a recall of Granny Smith apples it sold in 2014 to customers known to produce caramel apples. Two days later, on Christmas Eve, Bidart Bros. notified all customers receiving Granny Smith apples to recall those apples if they had been used to make caramel apples.

Since then, three caramel apple makers have issued voluntary recalls because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.  The companies are Happy Apple of Washington, Missouri; California Snack Foods, of El Monte, California; and Merb’s Candies of St. Louis. The recalls cover the following brands: Happy Apples, Karm’l Dapples, Merb’s Bionic Apples and Merb’s Double Dipped Apples.

FDA said it found the link to Bidart Bros by tracing the distribution of caramel apples eaten by eight ill people involved in the outbreak.  Although Happy Apple and Merb’s receive apples from other growers, the FDA’s research confirmed that Bidart Bros. was the only apple grower that supplied apples to both companies. According to the state-authorized California Apple Commission, Bidart Brothers is a handler of the Granny Smith variety and is based in Bakersfield.

Regardless of the recall situation, the FDA and CDC are still advising consumers not to eat any commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel apples because of the outbreak. Most stores have stopped selling the seasonal product, but officials fear some families may still have these items in their homes. Listeria is a pathogen that actually grows while refrigerated. Since mid-October, the outbreak has sickened 32 Americans from 11 states. Six case patients have died, but one of those deaths was clearly unrelated to listeriosis. In addition, nine pregnancies have been harmed by the outbreak strain of Listeria while three young people between the ages of 5 and 15 have suffered invasive Listeria meningitis. New cases were still being recorded in December. Nearly everyone sickened in this outbreak has been hospitalized.

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