Friday, December 19, 2014


We have a bad “holiday spoiler” food outbreak in the United States. It’s caramel apples. Several people have died, and many more are seriously ill. So far there is no actual recall, because we don’t know what brand of caramel apple is involved.

Here are the latest numbers from this food threat according to the CDC:

o Case Count: 28
o States: 10
o Deaths: 5
o Hospitalizations: 26

You’ll notice that there aren’t that many conclusively identified cases, but of these, a very high percentage ended up in hospital, and the death rate is also high.

The bacterium involved is Listeria once again. For those of you who have read the book (The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food), or who read this blog regularly, you will know that Listeria monocytogenes is often present in prepared foods – especially deli meats, sandwiches, salads, cheese and similar. This is the first case I can recall of it turning up in caramel apples.

Unfortunately, this tiny bacterium is a huge danger to pregnant women. Young children are also at more serious risk. In fact, in this case, nine of the serious illnesses were pregnancy-related (that is, they occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant). Three of the very serious “invasive” cases were among otherwise healthy children, ages 5-15.

So what can we do to be safe? At the present time, the official CDC advice is for consumers to avoid all caramel apples – plain, with nuts, chocolate, sprinkles, or anything else. It could turn out to be one of the toppings, or the caramel itself. It seems that you can still keep eating caramels though. I am delighted that we don't need to give those up as well.

Investigators are hard at work trying to identify which ingredient in the caramel apples is contaminated, and the brand involved. I guess they won't have much time off this year.

To your good health,

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