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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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A Sweet Treat Turns Potentially Deadly

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Safeway has pulled prepackaged caramel apples from its store shelves after a lawsuit was filed against the company. The wrongful death lawsuit, filed by the family of an 81-year-old woman, claims she was a victim of a deadly listeria outbreak and seeks a jury trial for unspecified financial damages plus attorneys’ fees.

Listeria is a foodborne illness that is especially dangerous to pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It rarely causes serious illness in healthy people and can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms, including high fever, headaches, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea, typically begin 3 to 70 days after eating the tainted food, therefore many illnesses might not be reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the 81-year-old woman was sickened with the same strains of listeria found in caramel apples that infected, and hospitalized, more than two dozen people in nine states. Of those sickened in the outbreak, nine patients were pregnant women or newborns. Others range in age from 7 to 92. The CDC said at least two other deaths were directly linked to the same strains of listeria. States with illnesses associated with the outbreak are: Arizona (4), California (1), Minnesota (4), Missouri (5), New Mexico (5), North Carolina (1), Texas (4), Utah (1) Washington (1), and Wisconsin (3). Investigators are still trying to determine which specific brands are involved and the source of the infected apples – the apples, caramel, toppings, even the stick.

On December 24, Happy Apple Co. of Washington, Missouri, announced a recall stating that one of the apple suppliers to its California facility reported a connection between the listeria outbreak and the apples it had supplied. Its recalled caramel apples were sold in single pack, three packs, four packs and eight packs, in several varieties with a “best use by dates” between Aug. 25 and Nov. 23. The list of retailers that the Happy Apple caramel apples were distributed to included — but were not limited to — Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Safeway. The recall covers 31 states. California Snack Foods Inc. of South El Monte, CA, also issued a voluntary recall of its Karm’l Dapple caramel apples with a best use by date between Aug. 15 and Nov. 28, 2014. Anyone with questions can contact Happy Apples at 800-527-7532 Monday through Friday during normal business hours or via email at customercare@happyapples.com. California Snack Foods can be reached at 626-444-4508 or via email at info@californiasnackfoods.com.

Although caramel apples are often a fall seasonal product, contaminated commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel apples may still be for sale at grocery stores and other retailers nationwide or may be in consumers’ homes. The CDC is recommending that consumers do not eat any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, until more specific guidance can be provided. If you own any of these apples, dispose of them in a secure container to avoid potential contamination in animals, or return to the store where the apples were purchased. Consumers who feel ill after eating a caramel apple should call their doctor.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.