Food and Drug Administration officials have not revealed any conclusions of their investigation of a listeria outbreak linked to caramel apples, but three companies supplied by Shafter, Calif.-based Bidart Bros. have announced voluntary recalls because of the potential of listeria contamination.

Food and Drug Administration spokesman Doug Karas said Dec. 29 that the agency was working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local governments on the outbreak investigation but had no definitive statement on the source of the outbreak yet. However, according to the caramel apple shippers — Happy Apple, California Snack Foods and Merb’s Candies — Bidart notified them that apples Bidart supplied might be linked to the outbreak.

Nearly 30 people have been sickened and five have died from the listeria outbreak linked to prepackaged caramel apples.

Jake Burns, apple packing manager for Bidart Bros., said the FDA first contacted the company about the agency’s investigation on Dec. 19.

Burns said Bidart Bros. markets California apples, and he said they finished shipping all of this season’s apples just before Thanksgiving. Bidart Bros. has not issued any product recalls, he said. FDA officials visited the facility on Dec. 23, Dec. 24 and Dec. 29.

“They were here extensively and made a couple of follow up visits,” he said. Burns said company officials described their food safety program and monitoring efforts to FDA officials.

Caramel apple makers announce recallsFDA officials took tests of the packing line and cold storage facilities but have not informed the company of any results as of Dec. 30. Burns said FDA officials said they might be ready with the results of the tests by the first week of the new year.

No conclusions yet

The FDA has informed company officials they are investigating all inputs related to caramel apples and do not have any definitive conclusions yet, Burns said.

Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association, said FDA officials told U.S. Apple on Dec. 29 that the investigation has not yielded any confirmed tests of listeria at Bidart or any other facility. Brannen said FDA was testing various facilities, including Bidart and caramel apple producers.

Brannen said FDA officials indicated that there were no illnesses linked to apples that were not caramel coated or prepackaged.

She said there has never been documented cases of foodborne illness linked to the consumption of whole fresh apples.

“The safety record of apples is tremendous,” she said.

Washington, Mo.-based Happy Apple Co. on Dec. 24 issued a recall of all caramel apples produced during the 2014 season. Although the company stopped shipping for the season by November, consumers are being asked to throw away any of the apples they still have on hand.

South El Monte-based California Snack Foods said in a Dec. 27 news release it was issuing a recall of all of its caramel apples with a best use by date between Aug. 15 and Nov. 28.

St. Louis-based Merb’s Candies on Dec. 29 issued a recall of the Merb’s Candies brand Bionic Apples and Double Dipped Apples because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The recalled products were available at retail in the St. Louis area and through mail order sales nationwide. Production of Merb’s Candies caramel apples ceased on Nov. 23 and the caramel apples produced are no longer available for purchase, according to a company news release.

All three of the caramel apple company’s releases, posted on the FDA’s website, said they were contacted by Bidart Bros.

California Snack Foods caramel apples are sold in single packs and three packs. They were distributed to retailers in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas and Utah, according to the release.

Happy Apple said in the release there has not been a direct link of the current listeria outbreak to caramel apples or the Happy Apple brand.

“We are working collaboratively with the FDA in their investigation into the potential source of listeria in caramel apples,” according to the release.

Happy Apple caramel apples are sold in single packs, three packs, four packs and eight packs and each package has a best use by date on the front of the label. The product was distributed to retailers in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

Happy Apple caramel apples were also being recalled in Canada, according to a government of Canada Healthy Canadians website. The Happy Valley Apples were known to have been sold in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, according to the website.

Consumers warned

The CDC recommends consumers not eat any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate and other toppings. All 29 ill people have been hospitalized and five deaths have been reported.

No illnesses related to the outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy, according to the CDC.