Unpasteurized Apple Cider & Food Illness

When the fall season arrives, people look forward to enjoying fresh apple cider and juices. Unfortunately, unpasteurized fresh apple cider and other unpasteurized juices have been linked with outbreaks of foodborne illness several times during the past.

FDA, State and Local regulations generally say that apple cider can only be sold as unpasteurized if the same farm that grew the apples is pressing the cider and selling it directly to consumers. Larger producers that get apples from multiple farms must heat pasteurize the cider produced or use other accepted methods to reduce microbial contaminants.

Unpasteurized juice should have the following warning:

“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.”

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Possibility for Contaminated Apples

There is a risk of apples becoming contaminated by food borne pathogens, like Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. Coli). There are several possible ways that the apples used to produce the juice or cider can become contaminated.

The first is by using windfall apples, sometimes called “drops” or “grounders” , which get contaminated by harmful bacteria on the ground. Windfall apples can be contaminated by manure of either cattle or deer, both carriers of E. coli O157:H7.

In addition, people harvesting apples can transfer manure or other contaminates to the apples still on the tree if their hands touch the rungs of the ladder where dirty shoes or boots have been.

Also, pathogen-contaminated water sources, such as wells and lakes, are sometimes inadvertently used to wash apples. Washing apples with safe, potable water is not guaranteed to remove all pathogens.

Juice Pasteurization

Without pasteurization, or some other treatment to kill bacteria, pathogens can end up in the juice or cider.  Pasteurization is a heat treatment designed to kill harmful bacteria and to prolong the shelf life of the product.

Grocery shelf apple juice and cider have been pasteurized and commercially frozen juice concentrate has also been heat treated. Apple juice and cider that is sold refrigerated in the produce department or in the dairy case may or may not be pasteurized. Be sure to check the product label, ask your grocer, or check with the producer to be sure.

Higher Illness Risk for People with Weak Immune Systems

Most people’s immune systems can typically fight off the effects of foodborne illness, but the FDA warns that children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems (such as transplant patients and individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer or diabetes) risk serious illness, or even death, from drinking untreated juices.

People in the vulnerable group are advised to drink pasteurized juice and cider, or bring unpasteurized products to a boil before consuming it

Homemade Cider Food Safety Tips

When making homemade cider, a few simple guidelines can dramatically reduce the risks of harmful bacteria.

  • Always inspect the apples and avoid using any with visible signs of decay.
  • Before making cider, start with clean hands, apples and equipment:
    • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least twenty seconds.
    • Wash apples thoroughly under cool running tap water, scrubbing with a veggie brush if you have one and drying with a clean paper towel.
    • Sanitize all cider-making equipment (an easy sanitizing solution is one tablespoon of bleach mixed with one gallon of water) by dipping it in the solution and air drying.
  • Once the apples are in the process of becoming cider, pasteurize the liquid by heating it to at least 160° F for 60 seconds.
  • Let the cider cool and always store it in the refrigerator.
  • Cider should be used immediately and will stay good in the refrigerator for up to five days (it can be frozen for longer storage).

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