While we have recently seen recalls related to Listeria being detected on apple slices, this is one of the first cases of a Listeria outbreak related to apples. Considering that there are as many illnesses and deaths, this is the type of outbreak that will have a huge impact on fruit packers and processors.
At this point, there is little information on the circumstances, but certainly more will follow.
Melted caramel is liquid in the 125F to 150F range, so depending on how fast it cooled, Listeria could survive on the surface. It also could be forced into the apple via the wooden stake.
At this point, it may be wise to avoid caramel apples.
Well here is a scenario….
- Apples that were probably washed, but in less-than-sanitary quality water contaminates the apple, and most importantly the calyx.
- Apples were stored prior to adding caramel, providing a greater chance for biofilm formation at the calyx end.
- The stick, when shoved into the calyx of the apple, drags the inoculum into the center of the apple.
- The core, perhaps not having as low a pH compared to the cells in the pulp, may be more apt to support the growth of Listeria.
- Growth is further supported by the storage of those apples at room temperature..and that temperature may even be higher in that those apples were dipped in the warm caramel.
- If the processor used bulk storage apples, the conditions for supporting biofilm would probably be greater.
- Caramel apples can have a sell-by-date as long as one month, and this will provide more opportunity for growth, even if that growth is slow.
Potential Controls for Consideration:
- Using tree run fruit that is sorted for fresh sales.
- Sanitizing apples followed by proper drying. Sanitizer concentration must be controlled.
- Storage of fresh apples at refrigerated temperature in boxes with separators.
- Pre-dip the sticks in an acid sanitizing solution.
- Chilling apples after dipping in caramel,
- Storage of the caramel apples at refrigeration temperature.
- Limit shelf-life of caramel apples.
- Can the calyx of the apple be removed?
We will need to see what the conditions for processing these caramel apples were to get a better idea of what happened.
CDC Outbreak Notices
Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Commercially Produced, Prepackaged Caramel Apples
Posted December 19, 2014 9:30 AM ET
- Read the Advice to Consumers and Retailers>>(http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/outbreaks/caramel-apples-12-14/advice-consumers.html)
- CDC is collaborating with public health officials in several states and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections (listeriosis) linked to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples. Listeria can cause a serious, life-threatening illness.
- The information CDC has at this time indicates that commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may be contaminated with Listeria and may be causing this outbreak.
- 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.
- 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.
- This investigation is rapidly evolving. New information will be provided as it becomes available.
- As of December 18, 2014, a total of 28 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 10 states.
- 26 ill people have been hospitalized. Among the 26 people hospitalized, five deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to at least four of these deaths.
- Nine illnesses were pregnancy-related (occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant).
- Three invasive illnesses (meningitis) were among otherwise healthy children aged
- 5–15 years.
- To date, 15 (83%) of the 18 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill.
- 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.
- Investigators are working quickly to determine specific brands or types of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples that may be linked to illnesses and to identify the source of contamination.
- This investigation is rapidly evolving, and new information will be provided as it becomes available.
Five Deaths, 21 Hospitalizations Linked To Caramel Apples, Authorities Warn
Posted: 12/19/2014 10:34 am EST Updated: 19 minutes ago
Dec 19 (Reuters) - Five people have died and 21 others have been hospitalized in recent weeks in a listeria outbreak linked to caramel apples, health officials said on Friday.
A total of 28 people infected with listeria have been reported from 10 states, according to a statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC warned consumers not to eat any pre-packaged, commercially-produced caramel apples, including those with other toppings such as nuts, chocolate or sprinkles, until more information is available.
Of the 28, 26 people were hospitalized and five of those people have died, the CDC said. Listeriosis contributed to at least four of the deaths.
Nine of the illness were pregnancy-related, in that they occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant.
The CDC said that 15 of the 18 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill.
No illnesses related to the outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and are not prepackaged, or to caramel candy, the CDC said.
Four of the cases, including two fatalities, occurred in Minnesota in late October and November, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Those who fell ill in Minnesota bought caramel apples from Supervalu Inc's Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike's Discount Foods, which carried Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand apples, the statement said. These two brands are no longer being sold, but health officials are concerned that people who bought them may still have them in their homes.
Listeriosis is an infection that primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune symptoms. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headache, confusion and convulsions. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)