Pasteurized or unpasteurized juice – what’s the difference?

Understand the important difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized apple juice or cider when you are buying your juice and cider this fall.

This is the time of year for fresh apples, juice and cider. Both pasteurized and unpasteurized juices will be available at grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside stands. It is often a personal preference as to whether people choose pasteurized or unpasteurized juice for themselves and their families.

Juices may look alike, but there is a big difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized juices. Pasteurized juices have been heated to high temperatures for a short time in order to kill any bacteria or other microorganisms that may be present.

When fruits and vegetables are made into fresh-squeezed juice, harmful bacteria may be present and become part of the finished product. Most juice in the United States is pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. The remaining small percentage of juice sold is unpasteurized. Unpasteurized juice may contain harmful bacteria that could make some people sick.

To help consumers identify unpasteurized juice and cider, the Food and Drug Administration requires a warning on juice and cider. All unpasteurized or untreated juice product must contain the following warning on the 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.

Drinking unpasteurized juices has led to serious outbreaks of foodborne illness. The warning information is to help consumers decide whether to buy unpasteurized juice.

Most people's immune system can usually fight off the effects of foodborne illness. However, some groups of people are more likely to get sick from drinking unpasteurized juice. Children, the elderly and people who have significant health problems, or those whose immune systems are weakened, risk serious illness or even death if they drink juice, or cider contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that if you or someone in your family is in one of the high-risk groups and you cannot determine if a juice product has been processed to destroy harmful bacteria, either don't use the product or bring it to a low boil to kill any possible harmful bacteria.

Canned juices, non-refrigerated shelf-stable juice in juice boxes, bottles or cans and frozen concentrate juices are processed to eliminate harmful bacteria. Unpasteurized juice can be found in the refrigerated sections of grocery or health food stores or at cider mills or farm markets.

Look for the warning on the label if you want to make sure you are purchasing pasteurized juices.

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