Caramel Apple Listeria Outbreak and Litigation
On December 19, 2014 federal investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced than an investigation of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes was underway. At that time investigation efforts implicated commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples as the likely source of illnesses. Using PulseNet to identify outbreak associated cases, investigators found two outbreak clusters. Patient isolates within each cluster were found to be highly related by Whole Genomic Sequencing but distinct between the two clusters. CDC investigated the two clusters together because one person was infected with both Listeria strains simultaneously and also because illnesses in the two clusters occurred during a similar time period and in similar regions of the country.
In interviews, ill persons answered questions about foods consumed and other exposures in the month before becoming ill. Twenty eight of the 31 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill. Caramel apple brands named in interviews included Happy Apples, Carnival, and Merb’s Candies. Three ill people interviewed did not eat caramel apples but reported eating whole or sliced green apples not covered in caramel.
On January 6, 2015, Bidart Bros. of Bakersfield, California voluntarily recalled Granny Smith and Gala apples because environmental testing revealed contamination with Listeria monocytogenes at the firm’s apple-packing facility. Two days later FDA laboratory analyses using PFGE showed that environmental Listeria isolates from the Bidart Bros. facility were indistinguishable from the outbreak strains. On January 18, 2015, results of testing by Whole Genome Sequencing showed that Listeria isolates from whole apples produced by Bidart Bros., collected along the distribution chain were also highly related to the outbreak strains. Consumers were urged not to eat any of the recalled Granny Smith and Gala apples produced by Bidart Bros. and retailers not sell or serve them.
Three firms that produce caramel apples issued voluntary recalls after receiving notice from Bidart Bros. that there may be a connection between Bidart Bros. and the outbreak. On December 24, 2014, Happy Apple Company of Washington, Missouri voluntarily recalled Happy Apples brand caramel apples with best use by dates between August 25, and November 23, 2014. On December 31, 2014 Happy Apple Company expanded the recall to include Kroger brand caramel apples produced by Happy Apple Company with a best use by date between September 15 and November 18, 2014. California Snack Foods and Merb’s Candies also issued recalls of Caramel apples.
In total 35 ill people were counted as outbreak associated cases. Patients lived in 12 states. Illness onset dates ranged from October 17, 2014 to January 6, 2015. Eleven Illnesses were associated with a pregnancy. One fetal loss was reported. Among people whose illnesses were not associated with a pregnancy, ages ranged from 7 to 92 years. Three invasive illnesses occurred among otherwise healthy children aged 5 to 15 years. Thirty four people were hospitalized and listeriosis contributed to at least three of the seven deaths reported.
Marler Clark represented two individuals, including one who died from the outbreak. Attorneys from Marler Clark achieved settlements covering medical costs, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering.