It’s that time of year again: A time when Americans, both young and old, enjoy decorating pumpkins, dressing up in outrageous costumes, visiting houses haunted with ghosts and goblins, and consuming way too much sugar. And then there’s the classic favorite, the caramel apple. I’ve never been a huge fan of the sticky treat, but many Americans just can’t get enough it.
This year’s Food Safety Consortium conference features “Preventing Listeria Workshop: A Practical Workshop on Food Safety Controls” on Tuesday, November 17. REGISTER HERE. Last year caramel apples received a huge amount of negative press as a result of a deadly Listeria outbreak that was traced back to prepackaged caramel apples from Bidart Bros (Bakersfield, CA). In February of this year, the CDC closed its investigation, and provided the final stats: 7 dead and 34 hospitalizations throughout 12 states.
Now here we are, at the height of the season for apples and sweet treats, and concerns over Listeria in caramel apples are back in the media. The good news is that industry is proceeding with caution. The Wall Street Journal reports that Kroger Co. is taking unrefrigerated caramel apples off its store shelves following a recent study that cited a higher likelihood of Listeria growth on the products when at room temperature versus under refrigeration. Published by the American Society of Microbiology, the study, “Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a Caramel-Coated Apple Microenvironment”, found that “insertion of a stick into the apple accelerates the transfer of juice from the interior of the apple to its surface, creating a microenvironment at the apple-caramel interface where L. monocytogenes can rapidly grow to levels sufficient to cause disease when stored at room temperature”. The researchers also advise that consumers purchase refrigerated apples or eat them fresh.
Although representatives from Kroger said they think the risk of Listeria contamination is minimal, they decided to take a cautionary approach. It’s reassuring to see companies step up and take proactive tactics to mitigating risks, especially when it involves protecting consumers against another potentially deadly outbreak.