US: Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a caramel-coated apple microenvironment
American Society for Microbiology: Neither caramel nor apples are a food where the pathogenic bacterium Listeria monocytogenes should grow, as caramel does not contain enough free water and apples are too acidic. Caramel-coated apples, however, were recently linked to a deadly outbreak of listeriosis. We hypothesized that inserting a stick into the apple releases juice to the interface between the apple and caramel, providing a more hospitable environment than either component alone. To test this hypothesis, apples were inoculated with L. monocytogenes prior to caramel dipping. Some apples had sticks inserted into them before dipping, while others did not. No growth of L. monocytogenes occurred on refrigerated caramel apples without sticks, whereas slow growth was observed on refrigerated caramel apples with sticks. In contrast, significant pathogen growth was observed within 3 days at room temperature on caramel apples with sticks inserted. Food producers should consider interfaces between components within foods as potential niches for pathogen growth.