California Apple Plant’s Deadly Listeria Outbreak

In the middle of December 2014, the CDC announced an outbreak of Listeria linked to commercially produced caramel apples. The outbreak resulted in 32 individuals being hospitalized  (FSN, CNN). One-third of those hospitalized were pregnant women, who are one of the high-risk groups of listeriosis (CNN). While seven deaths have been reported, the CDC has linked listeriosis to contributing to at least three of the deaths (CNN). The first illnesses were reported in mid-October — the peak of caramel apple season — and the outbreak has spread to 11 states (AZ, CA, MN, MO, NM, NC, NV, TX, UT, WA, WI) (FSN). Two cases of listeriosis have been reported in Canada, with the same PFGE (“DNA Fingerprint”) as the US strains. The majority of the ill people interviewed (89%) reported eating commercially produced and prepackaged caramel apples prior to their illness onset (CDC).


Listeria: The Bug

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause serious illness: Listeriosis. Listeriosis generally results from eating food contaminated with the bacterium. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, severe headache, stiffness, diarrhea, and chills, beginning a few days to a few weeks after the consumption of contaminated food (FDA). Listeriosis can be fatal in high-risk groups including the elderly, immunosuppressed patients, and pregnant women – which may result in stillbirths or miscarriages (FDA). Approximately 1,600-2,500 cases of listeriosis are reported in the US every year, and the infection causes approximately 260 deaths annually according to the CDC (CNN, CDC).  Unlike some other foodborne pathogens, the Listeria bacterium can grow in refrigeration temperatures, so the longer foods are stored, the more opportunity the bacterium has to grow.


Voluntary Recalls

As a result of the outbreak,three companies have voluntarily recalled their caramel apple products,, including: Merb’s Candies, California Snack Foods Inc., and Happy Apple (FSN). These companies used apples from the same grower, Bidart Bros, who recalled their Granny Smith and Gala apples on December 22 (CNN). Environmental testing at Bidart Bros revealed Listeria contamination at the firms apple-packaging facility (CDC).

A California man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the grocery chain Safeway, claiming that the contaminated caramel apples sold in the store contributed to the death of his wife.


Further Questions & Concerns

Consumers with questions about the Bidart Bros. recall may contact the company at 661-399-0978.

Consumers with questions about the California Snack Foods recall may contact the company at 800-966-5501 Monday through Friday during normal business hours or via email at

Consumers with questions about the Happy Apple recall may contact the company at 800-527-7532 Monday through Friday during normal business hours or via email at

Consumers with questions about the Merb's Candies recall may contact the firm at or during normal business hours Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST at (314) 832-7206.



Christensen, Jen. Jan 15 2015. Caramel apples linked to fatal listeria outbreak. CNN.

CDC. Jan 10 2015. Multistate outbreak of Listeriosis linked to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples. CDC. Accessed Jan 30 2015.

FDA. Jan 9 2015. Bidart Bros. works with federal and state officials to determine source of listeriosis-associated outbreak. FDA. Accessed Jam 30 2015.

Clark, Bruce. Jan 4 2015. Latest Facts: Listeria caramel apple outbreak. Food Poison Journal. Accessed Jan 31 2015

FDA. Jan 10 2015. FDA investigates listeria monocytogenes illnesses linked to caramel apples. FDA. accessed Jan 31 2015.

Andrews, James. Dec 31 2014. Caramel apple-linked listeria outbreak and recalls: what you need to know. Food Safety News. Accesse Jan 30 2015.

Fox, Maggie. Third Candy Maker recalls caramel apples for listeria. NBC> Acessed Jan 30 2015.

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