Is OJ Safe to Drink?
By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
You may have recently heard reports on the news or in the paper lately questioning the safety of orange juice. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to clarify this information and explain the situation. The FDA received reports that low levels of the pesticide carbendazim have been found in some orange juice products sold in the U.S. that contain imported orange juice concentrates. Because these carbendazim residues have generated questions about the safety of orange juice, FDA wants to assure consumers that orange juice in the U.S. does not pose a health risk.
What is carbendazim?
Carbendazim is a fungus-killing chemical used in Brazil and some other countries to preserve agricultural crops. Brazil provides about 11 percent of the orange juice in the United States market, and industry reports indicate that carbendazim is being used there because of a problem with black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees. FDA, which is the agency responsible for ensuring that food in the U.S. does not contain harmful pesticide residues, is taking steps to make certain that any carbendazim residues in orange juice do not present a threat to U.S. consumers.
Should I stop drinking orange juice?
No. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency that evaluates the safety of pesticides, has not approved the use of carbendazim as a pesticide on oranges, FDA believes the levels of carbendazim in orange juice are so low that there are no public health concerns. The agency bases this conclusion on the preliminary risk assessment conducted by EPA which found that the levels being reported for orange juice products already in the U.S. were far below any level that would pose a safety concern.
FDA can determine if carbendazim is present in orange juice products at levels of 10 parts per billion (ppb) or greater. FDA has collected samples from 80 shipments to the U.S. of orange juice or orange juice concentrate. As of Friday, January 27th, 29 shipments tested negative for carbendazim. Of the 11 shipments that tested positive, nine were refused entry and the other two were withdrawn by the firms that were importing them. For the complete results of the FDA testing, see Orange Juice Products and Carbendazim: Addendum to the FDA Letter to the Juice Products Association (January 9, 2012). . Testing of samples from domestic manufacturers is in process and the results will be posted the week of January 30, 2012. If any orange juice is found with carbendazim in amounts that may be a health risk, FDA will alert the public and act to remove it from the market.
How can I tell if orange juice is from Brazil?
Orange juice product labels in the U.S. must list any foreign countries that produce orange juice concentrate used in the product—whether the juice is frozen concentrated (the water is removed) or reconstituted ready-to-drink (the water is added back in to make it liquid). While many orange juice products contain some juice from Brazil, the levels of carbendazim are so low that they do not pose a safety concern.
Why are we importing all this juice anyway?
Orange juice is very popular in this country and to meet the demand year-round, U.S. food manufacturers use both domestic and imported orange juice. Also, oranges grown in the U.S. are sometimes in short supply due to hurricanes, freezes, and other weather events. While Brazil is the main source of orange juice concentrate imported into the U.S., only about 11%of the U.S. orange juice supply comes from Brazil. When Brazilian juice is used, it’s generally blended with juice from the U.S. and other countries.
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