When fall arrives, many of us look forward to enjoying fresh juice and apple cider. While most people think of juices as healthy foods, juice and cider could pose a health risk to your family unless they are heated to kill harmful bacteria. News stories every year highlight this risk; here are some recent examples:
- Oct. 31, 2014 – At least three sick with E. coli O157 in Canada from unpasteurized apple cider.
- Oct. 26, 2013 – A northern Michigan farm owner faces criminal charges after at least 4 people who drank unpasteurized apple cider got sick from E. coli O157:H7.
- October 16, 2013 – Unpasteurized apple cider sickens 11 in Johnson County in eastern Iowa; illness outbreak linked to Cryptosporidium.
Most of the juice sold in the United States is pasteurized (heat-treated) to kill harmful bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Juice may also be treated by non-heat processes to kill bacteria, but this is less common. Some rules allow juice and cider sold at farmers’ markets and at farm stands to remain unpasteurized, as long as they are kept refrigerated and a warning statement appears on the product.
WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
Why the risk? When fruits and vegetables are fresh-squeezed to produce juice, any bacteria that are present on the inside or the outside of the produce can become part of the finished product. Unless the juice or cider is further processed to destroy harmful bacteria, it could be dangerous for those most at risk for foodborne illness. Infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, such as AIDS and cancer patients, diabetics, recipients of organ transplants, and others with chronic diseases are at greatest risk for foodborne illness.
While most people’s immune systems can usually fight off foodborne illnesses, people in these “at-risk groups” are susceptible to serious illness from drinking juice or cider that has not been processed to kill harmful microorganisms.
And even juices and cider that are further processed must still be handled under sanitary conditions and kept cold to ensure safety.
Two simple steps to prevent illness. 1) Always read the label. If you are concerned about your health, read the label on fresh juice or cider to make sure it’s been pasteurized to destroy harmful microorganisms. 2) When in doubt, ask! Always ask if you are unsure if a juice or cider product has been pasteurized, especially a fresh drink served at a restaurant or juice bar where labeling of a package with a warning statement does not apply.
You can take comfort knowing that pasteurized juices have been treated to help protect the health of your family and friends.
Stay food safe (and healthy)! Barb