My family was out doing fall-ish things when I spotted them. Caramel apples...be still my heart! When I was a kid, I lived for this time of year because my family would set aside a day and spend it in the kitchen, making caramel apples for friends, neighbors, and for ourselves.

As I looked over the selection of caramel apples, it took every ounce of strength not to buy one for my little guy. Listen, I'm absolutely not a mom who is anti sweets, I believe in moderation, but I found myself setting down the blue raspberry caramel apple that I'd picked up. Maybe next year, but not this year. My son is still at that age where he's unable to care for his own teeth, so when I started thinking about how much time it would take for me to clean all that gooey deliciousness from his teeth, I backed away!

Caramel apples are amazing, but what about when they're not? According to the CDC, in 2014, seven people died from a Listeria outbreak caused by caramel apples and 32 other people got incredibly sick. Obviously, this outbreak was a few years ago, but it has definitely stuck in my mind all of this time. Also, experts warn that we should be extra careful whenever it comes to candy apples.

So, what happened? Why did seven people die after eating caramel apples? Well, researchers say that it all has to do with the fact that the caramel gives bacteria an insulated layer for breeding.

The study, published in the journal mBio, says that the growth of Listeria bacteria is most likely connected to the sticks that were used to dip the apples, and also suggests that how the caramel apples are stored plays a big part in the increased risk of listeria developing inside of them.

The University of Wisconsin decided to dig deep and found that dipping an apple in hot caramel doesn't kill all the bacteria on its skin.  In fact, what it does is it add an insulated layer for bacteria to grow and multiply and get this- it's especially bad if the apples are kept refrigerated for a long time after they're made.

So, what do you do if you just have to have a caramel apple? Wash your apple really well before you dip it in caramel and then eat it right away. And if you're buying store bought apples, pay attention to expiration dates. Once your apples have been sitting in caramel for a week or longer,  there's a good chance they could become infected with listeria.

[via ABC News/CDC/mBio/Food Safety News]