The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is spearheading an investigation into at least five fatalities from listeriosis, caused by ingestion of the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. According to the, CDC, public health officials in at least 10 states have reported at least 28 listeria cases been linked to this single outbreak. The affected states include Arizona, Texas, and Minnesota with 4 reported cases each; Missouri and New Mexico with 5 reported cases each; Wisconsin with 2 reported cases; and Utah, Washington, North Carolina, and California each with a single reported case.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with the CDC and state and local governments to trace the infections to their source. So far, the CDC, FDA and other health officials are looking at commercially produced and packaged caramel apples sold prior to Halloween and in the weeks following the holiday. The illnesses began to present on October 17, with the latest recorded illness presenting on November 27. Unfortunately, nearly one-third of these cases impacted pregnant women, the group most often associated with very serious health consequences that include still births and miscarriages. So far, none of the nine reported pregnancy related cases has resulted in a miscarriage or the death of an expected baby. At least three cases of invasive meningitis have also occurred in children aged 5 to 15.

All of the victims have been hospitalized, and five have died.

Listeria Investigation Leads to Caramel Apples

During a thorough trace-back investigation, an astounding 83% of the victims who responded to the battery of questions on eating habits in the weeks preceding the onset of illness, recalled consuming caramel-covered apples. At present, health investigators from the CDC and FDA are rapidly working to determine which brands of prepackaged caramel apples are the source of contamination in this outbreak. No specific brands have yet been named, though local reports have named at least a few of the grocery stores where the products were purchased, including Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike’s discount Foods.

Consumers are being cautioned about consuming prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel or those with nuts or other toppings, until this investigation is complete. This is especially important, says Listeria lawyer Ron Simon, for the elderly, very young, and for pregnant women. “I have represented any of the victims of listeria outbreaks in the past,” Simon noted, adding “and every one is serious.” Unlike many food borne pathogens, Listeria hospitalizes over 80 percent of all its victims – and in this outbreak, it has been 100%. According to Ron Simon, consumers who have become ill after eating these caramel apples are encouraged to tell their doctors so they can receive the proper testing and treatment.