Fall's bounty is full of delicious, comforting foods such as sweet potatoes and pumpkin spice.
One treat that might not be so great, however? Caramel apples.
According to a new study, caramel apples, when stored improperly, can be hotbeds for gut-busting bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium responsible for hospitalizing 35 sugar-fiends (31 of whom specifically admitted eating caramel apples) back in 2014.
Food researchers from the University of Wisconsin wanted to better understand the Listeria outbreak of 2014, so they got to work testing strains of the bacteria on home-prepared caramel apples.
First, they exposed 144 raw Granny Smith apples to the bacteria, applying strains to the stems, skins and bottoms of the fruits. They put wooden sticks through the cores of only half of the apples but coated all of them in a hot caramel mixture. Then, the researchers let the caramel set.
Half of the batch was refrigerated while the other half was left out at room temperature.
Within just three days, the stick-speared apples left at room temperature displayed “significant pathogen growth,” whereas the refrigerated fruits with sticks saw much slower growth. The refrigerated apples without sticks saw no growth.
The researchers surmised although the hot caramel killed the majority of the bacteria, what little remained was able to flourish thanks to the small amounts of the apples' juices that leaked out when the fruits were speared with the wooden sticks.
This scary finding is most relevant in regard to commercially-prepared caramel apples because they are often left out at room temperature for days or weeks at a time and are pretty much always speared.
Though rare, consuming the Listeria bacteria through infected food is a nightmarish experience; a victim may suffer from a fever, a headache and vomiting -- sometimes surfacing weeks after the initial contact.
The takeaway? Do your research before indulging in your favorite fall treat. Or, you know, just make 'em at home. Homemade is always better, anyway.
Read the full study over at mBio.