Why Caramel Apples Are A Hidden Halloween Danger

Your mom probably had a bunch of safety fears for Halloween, but did she ever think to worry about listeria? As it turns out, innocuous-seeming caramel apples frequently harbor listeria bacteria, so you may want to exercise caution when consuming them this season. New research published in the journal mBio shows that caramel apples are a particularly hospitable environment for listeria, a food-borne bug that is able to grow in cold environments (like your fridge). Their vulnerability is that darn stick stuck into the apple, which provides a great, wet, secluded place for the listeria to proliferate. Yum.

Unrefrigerated caramel apples with sticks grow literally one thousand times their initial listeria content in just three days, but even refrigerated caramel apples with sticks grow listeria after a week. Since packaged caramel apples with sticks have already probably been placed on the unrefrigerated shelves of your grocery's produce department in early October with weeks to go until Halloween, this is actually a pretty legitimate health concern.

Listeria causes ordinary food poisoning symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and fever. Though it's often just unpleasant, listeria sometimes becomes more dangerous when it spreads to your nervous system, so you should see a doctor to find out if you might require treatment with antibiotics. Pregnant women should be especially cautious in avoiding listeria and being treated for potential infection by it, because listeria is known to seriously injure and kill fetuses.

Most of those store-bought caramel apples aren't even that tasty, so don't risk a bout of food poisoning for them please! The easiest solution is to make your own caramel apples just before you want to eat them, and to skip the stick if you need to store them (refrigerated) for a while. You can probably come up with a way more creative caramel apple than the boring commercially-available ones anyways. Bacon-wrapped caramel apples, anyone?

Images: arinahabich/Fotolia, Giphy