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Home News Listeria Outbreak Linked to Caramel Apples
Kenny Vigil
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Listeria Outbreak Linked to Caramel Apples

December 19, 2014 - Foodborne Disease Agents - Alert

Pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems most at risk

Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is an important public health problem in the United States.

The New Mexico Department of Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis that has just been linked to eating caramel apples. As of December 17, 2014, a total of 28 cases have been identified in 10 states with 26 of them hospitalized and 5 deaths reported. Listeriosis contributed to at least four of the deaths. Currently, 5 people in New Mexico have become ill as part of this outbreak though investigations into identifying other cases is ongoing. Ages of the 5 cases range from newborn children to 42 years of age. These cases reside in Bernalillo, McKinley, and Lea counties and became ill in October and November. All were hospitalized and are recovering.

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 US 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.

“The Department will continue working closely with national partners to determine the scope of products impacted,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “Until more information is available, anyone in New Mexico who has any type of pre-packaged caramel apple in their home right now should not eat it.”

At this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not pre-packaged. 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. New information will be provided as it becomes available.

Brand names of the caramel apples purchased by the New Mexico cases have not been identified, though retail locations where the cases said they had shopped are no longer selling caramel apples.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. On average, three to four cases of listeriosis are reported in New Mexico each year. Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn. Symptoms usually begin from 3 days to one month after consuming contaminated food products, but can be up to 70 days for pregnant women.

People who are at high risk for listeriosis include: people age 60 and older, people with weakened immune systems from organ transplants or certain chronic diseases, immunosuppressive therapies or medications, and pregnant women. Healthy adults rarely develop severe illness.

It is important for people at high risk to follow the standard CDC guidance about Listeria. People can decrease their risk of Listeria infection by not eating deli meats unless reheated to an internal temperature of 165 F, refrigerated pâté or meat spreads, refrigerated smoked seafood, and soft cheeses such as queso fresco and brie unless they are made with pasteurized milk.

Antibiotics given promptly can cure the illness and prevent infection of a fetus. Even with prompt treatment, some Listeria infections result in death. This is particularly likely in older adults and in people with other serious medical problems.

Anyone who believes they may have become ill with listeriosis should contact their health care provider.

More information on Listeria can be found on the Listeria (Listeriosis) page.

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Investigando un Foco de Listeria Relacionado con Manzanas de Caramelo