The FDA, CDC and state and local officials are investigating an outbreak of listeriosis linked to commercially-produced, prepackaged whole caramel apples.

According to the CDC, as of December 30, 2014, 32 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 11 states.  The CDC reports that 31 ill people have been hospitalized.  Six deaths have been reported.  Listeriosis contributed to three of these deaths and it is unclear whether it contributed to two others.  The sixth death was unrelated to listeriosis.  Ten illnesses were pregnancy-related, with one illness resulting in a fetal loss.

The CDC reports that 23 of the 26 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially-produced, prepackaged whole caramel apples.  To date, caramel apple brands named in interviews include Happy Apple, Carnival and Merb’s Candies. However, the investigation is ongoing and other brands may be identified. 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.
On December 18, 2014, the Minnesota Department of Health 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.

Three companies have issued voluntary recalls of caramel apples because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.  These companies are:

  • Happy Apple Company of Washington, Missouri
  • California Snack Foods, of El Monte, California
  • Merb’s Candies of St. Louis, Missouri

Each company reported receiving notice from Bidart Bros., an apple supplier headquartered in Bakersfield, California, that there may be a connection between the listeriosis outbreak and the apples supplied to them by Bidart Bros.

The FDA has traced the distribution of the caramel apples eaten by eight ill people involved in the outbreak.  Although the Happy Apple Company and Merb’s Candies receive apples from other growers, the FDA’s ongoing traceback investigation has confirmed that Bidart Bros. is the only apple grower that supplied apples to both companies.

On December 22, 2014, the FDA briefed Bidart Bros. on the status of the investigation.

On December 22, 2014, Bidart Bros. issued a recall of Granny Smith apples it sold in 2014 to those customers known to produce caramel apples.  Then, on December 24, 2014, Bidart Bros. notified all customers receiving Granny Smith apples in 2014 to recall those apples if they had been used to make caramel apples.