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Juice and Cider: Make Sure They're Safe

When fall arrives, many of us look forward to enjoying fresh apple cider and juices. While most people think of juices as healthy foods, since they provide many essential nutrients, certain types of juice could pose a health risk to your family.

Apples and apple cider

Why Juice Is Pasteurized or Treated

Most of the juice sold in the United States is pasteurized (heat-treated) to kill harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Juice may also be treated by non-heat processes to kill bacteria.

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 is further processed to destroy harmful bacteria, it could be dangerous for those most at risk for foodborne illness. 

Who’s at Risk?

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 that has not been processed to kill bacteria.  FDA recommends that these groups should drink unpasteurized juice only if they bring it to a boil first to kill any harmful bacteria.

Check the Label

Some grocery stores, health food stores, cider mills, and farm markets sell packaged juice that was made on site that has not been pasteurized or processed to ensure its safety. These untreated products should be kept refrigerated and are required to carry the following warning label:

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.

The FDA does not require this warning label for juice or cider that is fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass at orchards, farm markets, roadside stands, or in some restaurants or juice bars. So, if you stop at a roadside stand or farm market where samples of cider or apple juice are available, be sure to ask whether the juice has been treated.

Two Simple Steps to Prevent Illness

1.   Always Read the Label

Look for the warning label to avoid juice that has not been pasteurized or otherwise processed. In particular, look for the warning label on any packaged juice product that may have been made on site, such as at grocery and health food stores, cider mills, or farm markets.

2.   When in Doubt, Ask!

Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Pasteurized juice is normally found in your grocers’ frozen food cases, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in containers such as juice boxes, bottles, or cans. Do not hesitate to ask questions if the label is unclear or if the juice or cider is sold by the glass.

Questions and Answers

Updated September 22, 2010

Q. Are juices made at home with a juicing machine safe? Are there special precautions to take when making juice at home, other than washing fruit and vegetables?

A. While it's important to wash fruits and vegetables before consuming them, any bacteria on the outside or inside of produce could contaminate the juice. Unless you process the juice to destroy the bacteria, it could still be dangerous for people who are at risk for foodborne illness.

Posted in: SeasonalTagged: Apple Juice | Cider | Juicing | Pasteurized