As part of a “rapidly evolving” investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken the rare step of advising people to avoid a specific kind of food altogether until the organization learns more about a recent outbreak of illness. In this case, the food is caramel apples, and the microbial culprit is Listeria monocytogenes, a strain of which has infected at least 28 people in ten states since October. “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 organization writes on its website.
No specific manufacturer has been identified, but 83 percent of the 18 people who became sick and were interviewed by the CDC say that they ate commercially available caramel apples prior to the onset of symptoms. Five people each in New Mexico and Missouri have gotten sick, along with four each in Arizona, Minnesota, and Texas; two people have gotten sick in Wisconsin; and one each has tested positive for listeria in California, North Carolina, Utah, and Washington. Of those, five have died, and Listeriosis “contributed to at least four” of the deaths,” the CDC says. A multi-state outbreak of the illness in 2011 linked to a Colorado cantaloupe farm sickened 147 people and killed 33.
The public-health institute says it has “limited information” about the manufacturer(s) and brand names, as well as limited data on illnesses that began after December 3. Apples in general tend to be shelf-stable at room temperature, and the addition of caramel extends their shelf life. Here’s more on the symptoms of Listeriosis, and more information on the outbreak can be found here.