WASHINGTON — A sweet treat has turned potentially deadly for dozens of people in multiple states.
At least four people have died — in a fifth case tests are pending — after eating caramel apples that may have been infected with Listeria monocytogenes.
Some 28 people have become infected with the deadly bacterium in 10 different states according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of the people who have gotten sick, nine were pregnant. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get listeriosis after eating infected food.
Of the rest of the cases, three were children who were otherwise healthy, the CDC said.
Symptoms of listeriosis infection include muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, fever, and convulsions. Typically, symptoms begin three to 70 days after eating the tainted food.
To date 15 of the 18 people who were interviewed about their illnesses remembered eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before they got sick.
Most of the people who got sick with this outbreak saw the doctor in late October and November.
Investigators are still trying to determine which specific brands are involved. They are also trying to figure out the source of the infected apples.
In the meantime, the CDC is warning consumers who may have bought caramel apples with toppings like nuts, chocolate or sprinkles not to eat them, at least not until investigators figure out the source of the contamination.
There are about 1,600 cases of listeriosis reported in the United States every year. This kind of infection kills about 260 people annually, according to the CDC.
CDC Advice to Consumers:
- Out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends 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, until more specific guidance can be provided.
- Although caramel apples are often a fall seasonal product, contaminated commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may still be for sale at grocery stores and other retailers nationwide or may be in consumers’ homes.
- These products could have a shelf life of more than one month.
- If you have any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples in your home, throw them away. Place them in a closed plastic bag in a sealed trash can to prevent other people or animals from eating them.
- At this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.
- There is no evidence currently linking illnesses to homemade caramel apples. If you are unsure if a caramel apple is commercially produced or homemade, then you should not eat it.
- If you think you might have become ill with signs and symptoms of listeriosis after eating a commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apple, contact your health care provider.