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. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    Minnesota Twins pitching coach Neil Allen jogs back to the dugout after paying starting pitcher Tyler Duffey a visit on the mound in the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
  2. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond

    Crime

    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff's Office on Friday.
  3. Mayor Rick Kriseman says election is about moving forward

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office  Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward..

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  4. Mulberry teens, 15 and 18, killed when cars collide at Plant City intersection

    Accidents

    MULBERRY — The local high school has an enrollment of 1,000 but to some it feels like a tight-knit family. Many of Mulberry High School's students have spent all of their school days within the city limits, said principal Michael Young.

    Pepe Salgado, 18, was killed Friday along with his sister Frinzi Salgado-Diaz, 15, in a car crash in Plant City. They were passengers in a car driven by their cousin Edilberto Nava-Marcos, 18, who was transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center and was listed in critical condition. All three lived in Mulberry and attended Mulberry High School. [Polk County School District]
  5. Assisted living facility owner accused of sexually assaulting employee in Pinellas

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — An assisted living facility owner was arrested Thursday on charges that he sexually assaulted an employee, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.