The Happy Apple Co. is expanding a recall to include Kroger-branded caramel and candy apples because of a deadly ongoing listeria monocytogenes outbreak, even though their best by dates passed more than six weeks ago.
Six of the 32 people confirmed to have the specific listeria strain have died and 31 of them required hospitalization, according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illnesses spanned 11 states as of the Dec. 31 report from the CDC.
Produced by Happy Apple Co., Washington, Mo., the Kroger caramel apples were distributed to retailers in single- and three-packs across 14 states, according to the recall notice on the Food and Drug Administration website. The apples were sent to Arizona, Alaska, Kansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Happy Apple Co., California Snack Foods, El Monte, Calif., and Merb’s Candies, St. Louis, initiated recalls of caramel and candy apples in December after apple supplier Bidart Bros. notified them that the granny smith apples might be contaminated with listeria. As of a New Year’s Eve update from FDA, there is an epidemiological link connecting the outbreak to apples from Bidart Brothers, Shafter, Calif.
“The FDA has traced the distribution of the caramel apples eaten by eight ill people involved in the outbreak,” according to the Dec. 31 FDA update.
“Although the Happy Apple Co. and Merb’s Candies receive apples from other growers, the FDA’s ongoing traceback investigation has confirmed that Bidart Bros. is the only apple grower that supplied apples to both companies.”
Jake Burns, apple packing manager for Bidart Brothers, said the FDA first contacted the company on Dec. 19. FDA inspectors were at the Bidart packing facility on Dec. 23, 24 and 29, Burns said. He said the inspectors said they might have results from environmental swab tests collected at the packinghouse by the first week of January.
As of Jan. 6, FDA spokesman Doug Karas said the agency did not have any new details to report on the investigation. All of the companies and retailers linked to the listeria outbreak are working with state and federal officials to find the root cause of the listeria monocytogenes contamination, according to notices on the FDA and CDC websites.
Distribution details for candy and caramel apples from Happy Apple, Merb’s Candies and California Snack Foods are included in the recall notice on the FDA website. The FDA is investigating whether there are common sources of caramel, caramel ingredients, sticks or packaging.