U.S. consumers are being advised to avoid eating caramel apples that have been commercially produced. This recommendation follows an outbreak of listeriosis in several states across the U.S. that has been linked to commercial caramel apples. Now, Safeway has withdrawn from its shelves caramel apples in response to the latest warning issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), along with a few threats of lawsuits looming around the corner.

Listeriosis is caused by eating food that has bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. This infectious agent can be life-threatening, though when caught early enough can effectively be treated with antibiotics. The government agency's advisory comes after several states recorded cases of infection, including: California, Missouri, Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Utah, North Carolina and Washington. As of December 22, Missouri and New Mexico had five reported cases each, the highest number recorded in a single state.

While the outbreak may seem limited to a select group of individuals, five people have already died from the illness listeria. And CDC officials are warning that pregnant women, children and the elderly are at the highest risk of becoming infected. The symptoms can include diarrhea, body aches and fever.

Listeriosis has an incubation period that could be as short as a few days and as long as a month or up to ten weeks in pregnant women. This disease has been known to cause miscarriages, stillbirths and premature deliveries for pregnant women, so health officials are making it clear that the life of a newborn hangs on the balance when they or their mothers become infected.

Safeway is now in court to counter a lawsuit filed by a family of a woman who died after consuming caramel apples from its store. According to the CDC, 28 other people have been infected with the same listeria strain that killed the 81-year-old woman. She died on December 2 after eating caramel apples she had bought in a Safeway store in October.

Brian Dowling, the vice president for public affairs at Safeway, says that the company has opted to pull the apples from the shelves as the matter is investigated. He noted the caramel apples were supplied to the grocery chain by a third party.

"We were previously unaware of any issue as it relates to the specific sale of this product at our stores," he said.

Dowling declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuit filed against the company.

This is not the first time a strain of listeria is killing people in the country. In 2011, a listeria outbreak killed 33 people. Health officials are working around the clock to determine where the infection originated.