Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

feeling fine

Some words of caution about a Halloween favorite: caramel apples

What's better at this time of year than a large, shiny caramel-covered apple? They're almost as much a part of Halloween as jack-o'-lanterns and goblins.

But, if you're planning on dipping your own apples or buying ready-made, you might want to take a few precautions to prevent a potentially serious illness.

Researchers reporting in the online journal of the American Society of Microbiology found that Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel became a breeding ground for listeria if the apples were made with sticks and stored at room temperature for several days.

Caramel apples are commonly made by inserting a wooden popsicle stick into the stem end of the apple so you can easily hold it while dipping it into warm, melted caramel. Because they can be difficult to bite into when they are chilled, many people simply store the apples at room temperature and eat them over the course of several days.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Food Research Institute found inserting a stick into the apple caused juice to leak onto the surface of the fruit. That moisture became trapped under the caramel, creating what one of the lead researchers, Kathleen Glass, called a "microenvironment on the surface of the apple that facilitates growth of any Listeria monocytogenes cells that are already present on the apple surface."

Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause serious illness, even death. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck and gastrointestinal distress, which may not appear for three or four weeks after eating infected foods.

The University of Wisconsin study was prompted by a listeriosis outbreak in 2014 in which 35 people from 12 states were infected and seven people died. All but three of the 31 victims who became ill reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples.

Dianna Thomas, a registered dietitian at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, said most people probably aren't aware of the potential for contracting a listeriosis infection from caramel apples.

Younger, healthy adults may become infected and never know it or have just a mild case of diarrhea. But some groups are at risk for serious illness.

"Anyone whose immune system is compromised, such as those with HIV or cancer, are at high risk. So are the elderly, young children and anyone with a chronic health condition. Moms who are breastfeeding should also be careful with fresh produce and unpasteurized dairy products," Thomas said.

According to UW researchers, caramel apples made without sticks took longer to grow listeria when stored at room temperature. Growth of the bacteria was further delayed, by up to four weeks, when the apples were made without sticks and stored in the refrigerator.

To prevent illness, the researchers recommend using tongs to hold the apples for dipping, eating them right after they are made or inserting the stick right before eating, and storing remaining apples in the refrigerator.

Thomas adds this: "People die from (listeria) infections every year and all those deaths are preventable with proper food handling and storage and avoiding unpasteurized dairy products, especially where people in those high-risk populations are concerned."

Contact Irene Maher at imaher@tampabay.com.

Some words of caution about a Halloween favorite: caramel apples 10/29/15 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2015 4:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Conservatives come to Sessions' defense amid Trump attacks

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and influential conservatives rallied around Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as President Donald Trump kept up his public pelting of the nation's top law enforcement officer and left his future in doubt.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  2. Jones: Alex Cobb proves again why he's Rays' stopper, no matter how long he's here

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    If a team hopes to hang around the pennant race, they better have an ace. A stopper. A pitcher they can count on every fifth day to stop the bleeding, keep a winning streak going or flat-out win a game that a team flat-out needs to win.

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing the first inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  3. Why did Debbie Wasserman Schultz keep paying tech expert suspected of stealing House computers?

    Blogs

    The following is from the Miami Herald:

  4. GOP senators blink on a big chance to repeal 'Obamacare'

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — After seven years of emphatic campaign promises, Senate Republicans demonstrated Wednesday they don't have the stomach to repeal "Obamacare" when it really counts, as the Senate voted 55-45 to reject legislation undoing major portions of Barack Obama's law without replacing it.

    U.S. Sen. Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) talks with reporters as he walks to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, DC. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]
  5. Rick Baker's debate answer revives painful St. Pete controversy

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — Former Mayor Bill Foster fired one of his top administrators, Goliath Davis III, six years ago for disobeying an order to attend the funeral of a slain police officer.

    St. Petersburg police officers stand by two caskets before the beginning of the 2011 funeral services for Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz at the First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD   |  Times]