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Caramel Apples May Pose Health Risk, Warns Food Scientist

How you store them is super important.

10/27/2017 10:36 EDT | Updated 10/27/2017 10:37 EDT

As Halloween approaches, consumers are being warned that caramel apples may pose health threats if not stored correctly.

Food scientist Luke LaBorde from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is warning fans of the sweet treat that, "Under no circumstances should consumers eat caramel-covered apples that have not been kept stored at refrigerated temperatures."

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He says that doing so can place people at a risk of serious health conditions such as listeriosis, an infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.

The bacteria is easily destroyed by cooking foods that carry it to the proper temperatures, but if not destroyed the bacteria can grow and cause illness.

Under no circumstances should consumers eat caramel-covered apples that have not been kept stored at refrigerated temperatures.

Symptoms are mainly just unpleasant, such as fever, muscle aches, vomiting, nausea and/or diarrhea, with most of us feeling better within a day or two.

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However, for those who are in more vulnerable high-risk groups, including the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems, listeriosis can be more serious, increasing the risk of long-term health problems and in some cases even causing death.

Symptoms are mainly just unpleasant, such as fever, muscle aches, vomiting, nausea and/or diarrhea, with most of us feeling better within a day or two.

LaBorde points out that normally whole apples are safe from listeria, and if bacteria is present it is only at very low, harmless levels, and it cannot grow to higher levels on the skin of the apple.

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However, after a listeria outbreak a few years ago caused by caramel apples infected 35 people from 12 U.S. states, he is warning of the importance of correct storage and processing practices by suppliers.

For consumers LaBorde advises "purchasing refrigerated caramel apples or preparing them at home," and once bought refrigerating them at a safe temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower if not consumed within about two hours.

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"It's amazing to me that we still see caramel apples on store shelves or in the produce aisle and not in refrigerated display cases where they should be," added LaBorde, "Food is a necessity, so it's imperative that what we eat is healthy and safe. We can take steps to make that happen, including good hand hygiene, appropriate handling and cooking techniques, and safe storage. A little due diligence can go a long way for good health."

It's amazing to me that we still see caramel apples on store shelves or in the produce aisle and not in refrigerated display cases where they should be.

Other foods commonly associated with the illness include uncooked meats and vegetables, unpasteurized milk and cheeses including soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs, smoked seafood, and raw sprouts.

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