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Caramel apple listeria outbreak that left two Minnesotans dead traced to California

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Health investigators have traced a listeria outbreak linked to the deaths of two Minnesotans to caramel apples packaged at a plant in California, the Food Poisoning Bulletin reports. A total of four Minnesota adults were sickened, and 32 people have contracted listeria in 11 states.

The Centers for Disease Control reports seven people have died who contracted the illness, at least three deaths resulted from the listeriosis.

A California apple packing facility, Bidart Bros., recalled shipments of Granny Smith and Gala apples sent from the Shafter facility in 2014. The FDA found traces of listeria in whole apples that were not dipped in caramel, the Associated Press reports.

Company President Leonard Bidart tells the Associated Press, “As a family-owned grower operating in California since the 1930s, we place safety at the forefront of everything we do. Our hearts go out to all who have been impacted by the apple-related listeriosis outbreak.”

The outbreak started just before Halloween, but the Associated Press says the apples have a long shelf life. The recalled apples are under the names: “Big B” and “Granny’s Best,” but some are unlabeled. Several caramel apple brands include Happy Apple, Kroger, California Snack Foods and Merb’s Candies.

Food Poisoning Bulletin says Minnesota health officials were the first to identify the brands linked to the outbreak.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture linked Kitchen Cravings and Carnival brand caramel apples sold at Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike’s Discount Foods. Happy Apples are also added to the list and issued a recall on Christmas Eve. The company's apple supplier is Bidart Brothers.

The Minnesota Department of Health says those at greatest risk are pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.

The MDH lists the symptoms as "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 begin from 3 to 70 days after consuming the bacteria."

A lawsuit has been filed in the on behalf of a New Mexico woman and her newborn son, according to Food Safety Bulletin.

Cathy Jones ate one of the Listeria apples while pregnant and became ill. She delivered her child several months early, and he contracted the infection as well. He remained in the intensive care unit for more than a month with the illness. Three other newborn babies developed infections in New Mexico as well.

Ten pregnancy-related cases have been reported, including one in which a fetus didn't survive.

The last largest listeria outbreak was in 2011 with cantaloupe. It sickened 147 people and killed 33 in 28-state outbreak.

In 2013, two Minnesotans were sickened - one died - in the Crave Brothers cheese outbreak. Coon Rapids-based Parkers Farm recalled potentially tainted cheese last summer.

Other states affected include: Arizona, California, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

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