If you succumbed to the temptation of one of those crappy pre-packaged supermarket caramel apples around Halloween, you may have gotten more than you bargained for among the chopped peanuts and sprinkles — listeria.
Health officials are warning consumers not to eat commercially produced caramel apples after they were linked to a listeria outbreak that has so far sickened more than two dozen individuals in 10 states, five of whom have died. There has been one confirmed case in California.
The Centers for Disease Control have identified 28 cases in Arizona, California, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Nine of the cases were pregnancy-related but no miscarriages have been reported. Infants, children and adults were affected.
Listeria infection can be particularly dangerous to pregnant women, newborn babies, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system. Although it seldom causes illness in healthy individuals and can be treated with antibiotics, listeriosis can be serious and even life threatening for some people. Symptoms can take as long as two months to develop.
Listeria outbreaks tend to cause more deaths compared with other pathogens such as E. coli or salmonella. The current outbreak has seen three children between five and 15 years old suffering from meningitis. Twenty-six of those affected have been hospitalized.
The CDC said that investigations are still ongoing to determine the specific brands of caramel apples that may have caused the illness and the source of the contamination. No recall has yet been issued as of December 22, but the CDC is advising consumers to steer clear of prepacked caramel apples. However, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.
"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," the agency says in a statement.
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Caramel apples tend to be popular around Halloween, and the people affected by the outbreak fell ill between October 17 and November 27. Since the commercial variety of the product has a shelf life of a month or more, some prepackaged caramel apples may still be in stores or homes.
Deadly apples? Snow White's evil stepmother would approve.