Caramel Apple Deaths: Listeria Outbreak Spreads To 10 States

Jennifer Deutschmann - Author
By

Dec. 19 2014, Updated 10:50 a.m. ET

Caramel apples are blamed for causing five deaths in the last three months. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said dozens of people were sickened after eating prepackaged caramel apples. CDC officials believe the commercially produced treats are contaminated with listeria.

Although the apples are generally a seasonal product, widely available in the fall, they may still be available in some regions. As listeria can be deadly, the CDC has cautioned consumers to refrain from purchasing or eating the products.

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“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.”

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In addition to the five caramel apple deaths, 21 others were hospitalized with the serious illness. CDC officials said the listeria outbreak has spread to 10 states. However, their investigation into the situation is “rapidly evolving.”

Although 83 percent of those sickened said they consumed commercially produced caramel apples, the CDC has not linked a specific brand to the listeria outbreak.

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Listeria monocytogenes is most commonly contracted by eating contaminated foods. Once consumed, the bacteria causes a serious infection called listeriosis. Although the symptoms may vary, most patients experience fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, and muscle aches.

As reported by USA Today, listeriosis is rarely fatal. However, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, infants, and the elderly are at greater risk for a severe infection.

Every year, tens of millions of Americans are diagnosed with food borne illness. In 2014 alone, 3,000 of those diagnosed later died. Although it may be impossible to eliminate the risk, the CDC recommends several precautions to lessen the likelihood of contracting food borne bacteria.

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The CDC recommends rinsing, scrubbing, and drying all produce prior to consumption. They also recommend storing cooked and uncooked products separately.

Food borne bacteria, including listeria, can also grow on kitchen utensils, food prep areas, and inside the refrigerator. Therefore, it is important to keep utensils and surfaces clean. It is also important to make sure the refrigerator is kept a temperature at or below 40°F.

Proper food preparation is also vital to avoid spreading food borne bacteria. The CDC recommends thoroughly cooking all raw food products. Precooked and ready-to-eat products should always be consumed before the use-by-date.

Although the CDC has linked five deaths to caramel apples, it is still unclear where the contaminated products were produced or sold. For now, the CDC warns consumers to avoid purchasing or consuming any commercially produced prepackaged caramel apples.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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