Malaysia says Gala, Granny Smith apples safe for consumption after social media scare

Health Department Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah clarified that the articles on the ban of apples from California was "old news recirculated". ST PHOTO: ALAN LIM

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian authorities clarified on Wednesday (Jan 24) that two brands of American apples banned for bacterial contamination in 2015 are now safe for consumption, batting away reports circulating in social media and mobile messaging apps.

Health Department director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah told The Straits Times that articles on the ban of Gala red and Granny Smith green apples from California due to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that causes listeriosis, were "old news recirculated".

"No issue now," he said in response to whether the fruits have since been given the green light.

Consumption of food tainted with the bacteria can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, nausea, and, in severe cases, death. For pregnant women, the infection can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. Symptoms typically begin three to 70 days after eating the tainted food. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics.

In January 2015, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines seized or recalled the apples from 2014 shipments. The affected batch produced by California-based Bidart Bros was not imported into Singapore, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

The US Food and Drug Administration had detected two strains of the bacterium at the company's processing plant in Bakersfield. Bidart Bros said the last shipment of the affected apples was on Dec 2, 2014.

Packaged caramel apples made from the batch of fruits were at the centre of a listeria outbreak that resulted in several deaths in the US in 2014.

The affected apples were sold under the names Big Big and Granny's Best, but the company said they could have been sold under other brand names, or with no name.

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