What is the Problem and What is Being Done?
The FDA, CDC and state and local officials are investigating an outbreak of listeriosis potentially linked to commercially-produced, prepackaged caramel apples. Investigators are working to identify the source of contamination and to determine what products may be contaminated. New information will be provided as it becomes available.
According to the CDC, as of December 18, 2014, 28 people in 10 states have been reported as being infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes. The CDC reports that 26 ill people have been hospitalized. Five deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to at least four of the deaths. Nine illnesses were pregnancy-related. Four illnesses were among otherwise healthy children ages 5 – 15 years.
The CDC reports that 15 of the 18 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially-produced, prepackaged caramel apples. No illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and are not prepackaged and no illnesses have been linked to caramel candy.
The Minnesota Department of Health has reported four illnesses. The Minnesota cases purchased caramel apples from Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike’s Discount Foods, which carried Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand caramel apples. These two brands are no longer available for purchase at retail locations.
What are the Symptoms of Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is a rare but serious illness caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. Anyone who experiences fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, or develops fever and chills after eating commercially-produced, prepackaged caramel apples should seek medical care and tell the health care provider about any history of eating those caramel apples. Symptoms can appear from a few days up to a few weeks after consumption of the contaminated food.
Who is at Risk?
Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as cancer). In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.
What Do Consumers Need To Do?
Consumers should not eat commercially-produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, until more specific guidance can be provided. Consumers should throw away any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples that they may have in their homes until more specific guidance can be provided.
Recommendations for preventing listeriosis are available at the CDC Listeria website: http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html.
Listeria monocytogenes can grow at refrigerator temperatures, as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). The longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the refrigerator, the more opportunity Listeria has to grow.
For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with commercially-produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, it is very important that the consumers thoroughly clean the following areas:
- Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
In addition, consumers can follow these simple steps for food safety:
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
- Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
What Do Retailers and Restaurants Need To Do?
The CDC recommends that restaurants and retailers not sell or serve commercially-produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, until more specific guidance can be provided. Restaurants and retailers should also:
- Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators where potentially contaminated products were stored.
- Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to cut, serve, or store potentially contaminated products.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
- Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have processed and packaged any potentially contaminated products need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the potentially contaminated products.
- Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of cutting boards and utensils used in processing may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.
Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures. Listeria can also cross contaminate other food cut and served on the same cutting board or stored in the same area. Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators may wish to consider whether other foods available for sale could have been cross-contaminated from the potentially contaminated products, and should be discarded.