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The Important Reason You May Want to Avoid Pre-Packaged Caramel Apples This Halloween

Woman's Day logo Woman's Day 10/14/2015 Olivia St. John

​In December 2014, a fatal outbreak of listeria that was traced back to pre-packaged caramel apples ultimately left seven people dead, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since then, researchers have been attempting to understand how the deadly disease grew so rapidly on the typically harmless treats. Traditionally, apples are far too acidic to attract listeria, and because of its low water content, it would be rare for caramel to grow bacteria as well.

But a new study published in the medical journal mBio reveals how the two ingredients worked together to create the perfect environment for listeria monocytogenes to grow in great numbers.

The Important Reason You May Want to Avoid Pre-Packaged Caramel Apples This Halloween © J. Countess The Important Reason You May Want to Avoid Pre-Packaged Caramel Apples This Halloween

The team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Food Research Institute swabbed infected apples then dipped them in caramel to see exactly how the dessert developed the bacteria. The apples were stored between four to six weeks in temperatures varying from 77 to 44.6 degrees. Researchers were surprised to find that the hot caramel surprisingly did not kill the bacteria, but rather created a perfect environment for it to develop. And because listeria can grow even in refrigerated temperatures, the caramel apples eventually became rife with bacteria.

According to Kathleen Glass, associate director of the Food Research Institute, if people were to eat "those apples fresh, they probably would not get sick." Unfortunately, pre-packaged caramel apples are typically stored anywhere from a few days to a few weeks in refrigerated environments, giving the snack "enough time for the bacteria to grow."

Although listeria outbreaks related to pre-packaged caramel apple consumption remain low, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University suggests trading the traditional Halloween treat for a fresh apple this year-one that is washed throughly, just to be extra safe!

Not willing to give up your caramel apples? It's worth nothing that making your own caramel apples with properly washed fruit and eating them right away is a much safer alternative to buying the pre-packaged kind.

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[Via ABCNews.com]

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