A large outbreak of Listeria was tied to Gala and Granny Smith apples produced by Bidart Bros. in the holiday season of 2014. These apples were mainly used to make caramel apples, which served as the main source of infection. Between October 17, 2014 and January 6, 2015, 35 people in the United States were infected with Listeria, and 2 people in Canada were infected. Out of these cases, 34 required hospitalizations. The outbreak caused seven deaths, as well as one stillbirth. The cases were spread out over 12 states. New Mexico had the most cases with six, followed by Missouri with five cases, Arizona with five cases, Texas with four cases, Minnesota with four cases, California with three cases, Wisconsin with three cases, Colorado with one case, Nevada with one case, North Carolina with one case, Utah with one case, and Washington with one case.
The outbreak was identified through the use of the PulseNet system. Listeria cultures were taken from the patients and put through a process called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). This process produces a highly accurate “DNA fingerprint” which is then uploaded to the PulseNet system. PulseNet is monitored by the CDC, and when the same “DNA fingerprint” is found in multiple patients, an outbreak is suspected. For this particular outbreak, two distinct strains of Listeria were discovered, but they were linked after one patient was infected with both strains. The “DNA fingerprint” that was obtained from the Bidart Bros. facility matched with the “DNA fingerprint” that was found in patients with Listeria.
There were a large number of recalls associated with this outbreak. On December 24, 2014, Happy Apple Company of Washington, MO, recalled their caramel apples with a best use by date of August 25 and November 23, 2014. Happy Apples expanded the recall on December 31, 2014 to include Kroger brand caramel apples with a best use by date between September 15 and November 18, 2014. California Snack Foods recalled their Karm’l Dapple brand apples on December 27, 2014. The Karm’l Dapple brand apples that were recalled had a best use by date between August 15 and November 28, 2014. On December 29, 2014, Merb’s Candies of St. Louis, MO recalled their Candies Bionic Apples and Double Dipped Apples brand names. The brands recalled had a best use by date between September 8 and November 25, 2014. Lastly, Bidart Bros. recalled all Gala and Granny Smith apples shipped from their facility in Shafter, California. Two days later, FDA laboratories connected the Listeria found at the Bidart Bros. facility to the Listeria involved in the outbreak.
Listeria is a very serious bacterial infection. Symptoms may not appear until 70 days after infection, although they could appear as soon as a few days after infection. The symptoms of Listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, stiff neck, and other flu-like symptoms. It primarily affects those with suppressed immune systems, the elderly, and women who are pregnant. About 85% of people infected with Listeria require hospitalization. Anyone who suspects that they are infected with Listeria needs to contact a medical professional.