When you eat a caramel apple, the first thing that comes across your mind usually isn’t contamination. However, recent research suggests that how you consume your caramel apple is something you need to worry about. In fact, it is a potentially deadly issue.
Listeria, a dangerous illness, was found in 35 people in 2014, ultimately resulting in seven deaths. This sudden outbreak was shocking, and scientists soon discovered that it was caused by caramel apples.
Listeria is an illness caused by contaminated foods–most commonly meat, poultry, seafood, or unpasteurized milk. Some of the symptoms of Listeria are fever, headache, gastrointestinal-symptoms, and death. In pregnant women it can cause miscarriage, serious infection of the newborn, premature delivery, and stillbirth.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Food Research Institute found that if you puncture a caramel apple with the standard caramel apple stick, and let it sit unrefrigerated for a few weeks, Listeria can grow. This is because the juices that come out when the apple is punctures, are trapped under the caramel, and provide a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. These unique circumstances put apples, a food usually not susceptible to Listeria, at a great risk.
Kathleen Glass, the Associate Director of the Food Research Institute, ran additional tests on caramel apples and Listeria. She found that caramel apples with sticks that sat out for a week had more Listeria growth than caramel apples that weren’t punctured. She figured out that if someone ate caramel apples fresh or refrigerated, they were less likely to not get Listeria than those who ate the caramel apples that sat out at room temperature.
Glass recommends that caramel apples be eaten fresh or refrigerated. She also recommends that companies disinfect each apple before dipping it into caramel so there is no Listeria on the surface to grow.