Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Health

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 [email protected]

Comments
Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows are heavily tinted and the inside is hidden behind rows of curtains. Security cameras monitor every corner, and only patients with an appointment and valid identification can pass through the intentionally cramped e...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Jimmy Kimmel was absent from his ABC late-night show last week while his 8-month-old son, Billy, recovered from his second heart surgery. Ever since Billy was born with a heart defect and required immediate surgery, Kimmel has become an outspoken adv...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

With just four days left to enroll for health insurance on the federal exchange, advocates for the Affordable Care Act say Florida is headed for a record-breaking year. In week five of the six-week open enrollment period, about 823,180 people signed ...
Published: 12/12/17
A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?" he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. "Why do you find joy in taking in...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

WESTMINSTER, Calif. — After Yarly Raygoza attended the drug prevention program at the Boys & Girls Club here last year, she used what she learned to talk a few friends out of using marijuana.The 14-year-old took the class again this year but worries ...
Published: 12/10/17
Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggl...
Published: 12/10/17
A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — Francisco Piedra fixed his eyes on the man sitting beside him. His name was Richard Brown, and in his hands he held Piedra’s new ones.The prosthetics were black and plastic. Each one took about 20 hours to build from a 3D printer. Pi...
Published: 12/08/17
The solar eclipse burned a crescent wound on a woman’s retina. She wasn’t wearing proper glasses.

The solar eclipse burned a crescent wound on a woman’s retina. She wasn’t wearing proper glasses.

Like so many others, 26-year-old Nia Payne wanted to view of August’s historic solar eclipse but didn’t have a pair of protective glasses. She walked outside on Staten Island and glanced at the sun - 70 percent was covered - for about six seconds bef...
Published: 12/08/17
At St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, death of a colleague inspires ‘hats with heart’

At St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, death of a colleague inspires ‘hats with heart’

TAMPA — Brittany Weatherby didn’t know how to crochet when she started her job as a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, and she never dreamed of learning how.Maybe her grandma used to, she tried to remember, but Weatherby never really ...
Published: 12/08/17
How kids’ books can introduce a lifetime of fitness

How kids’ books can introduce a lifetime of fitness

When I became a parent last year, it seemed likely my marathon running days were behind me.Running had made me a grittier person. It had given me the very specific self-assurance that comes from calmly enduring 26 miles on foot, a quality that would ...
Published: 12/08/17