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Caramel apples may carry deadly health risk, but there’s a way to stay safe

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.

Researchers link caramel apples left at room temperature to listeria risk

If caramel apples are your jam this time of year, it's probably worth reviewing that those babies are a potential listeria factory — so store them in the refrigerator so they don't kill you.

There's a fall outbreak of listeria just about every year. Last year there was a particularly awful listeria outbreak — 35 were infected, seven died, and one woman had a miscarriage. Eventually the listeria was linked to store-bought caramel apples. Who would ever possibly imagine caramel apples would carry foodborne illness? But they do.

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Caramel apples are a breeding ground for listeria, especially when at room temperature, and now we even have some caramel apple-related food science for clarification. This week, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a paper in the journal mBio that says they found that when those goofy Popsicle sticks get inserted into an apple, it releases juices that create an environment for listeria to grow — particularly when the apples are stored at room temps.

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But before you totally freak, it's probably worth mentioning that the food researchers added that if you're doing a good job washing your apples, you'll probably be fine. The caramel apples they used in the lab were totally covered in listeria, so take that into account.

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So, caramel apple lovers, science has spoken: If you must indulge in a caramel apple this fall or are serving some at your annual Halloween party, remember to store them in the fridge (and wash them thoroughly first if you're making your own). Or you could just skip them altogether and go with candy corn. Just sayin'.

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