Apple juice is a popular beverage enjoyed by many. Freshly pressed apple juice has a delicious sweet and tart flavor that is hard to replicate with store-bought juice. Some people prefer to drink their apple juice raw or unpasteurized to preserve more of the nutrients and natural enzymes. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether it is safe to drink fresh apple juice without pasteurization.
What is pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a process of heating a liquid to a specific temperature for a set period of time in order to kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses, molds and yeasts. It was named after the French chemist Louis Pasteur, who invented the process in the 19th century.
For apple juice, the FDA recommends pasteurization at 161°F for 6 seconds to ensure safety and shelf stability. This time and temperature is enough to destroy dangerous pathogens while retaining more of the juice’s flavor and nutritional value compared to higher temperature pasteurization. Without pasteurization, apple juice may only last a week or two before spoiling or fermenting.
Potential risks of drinking unpasteurized apple juice
Drinking raw, unpasteurized apple juice may pose some health risks:
- Bacterial infections – Harmful bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria can contaminate apple juice during the production process. These bacteria can cause severe illness, especially in vulnerable populations like pregnant women, young children and the elderly.
- Viral infection – Juice can potentially transmit foodborne viruses like norovirus, hepatitis A and others if contaminated.
- Mycotoxins – Apple juice is prone to mold contamination. Mycotoxins from molds can cause health issues if ingested.
- Fermentation – Yeasts present on apple skins can ferment sugars naturally present in juice. Buildup of CO2 gas pressure from fermentation can cause bottles to explode.
While the risk is low, there have been foodborne illness outbreaks linked to unpasteurized apple juice and cider in the past. Children under 5 years, pregnant women, elderly and immunocompromised individuals are most susceptible.
Benefits of pasteurization
Here are some of the main benefits of pasteurizing apple juice:
- Kills pathogens – Pasteurization destroys nearly 100% of dangerous bacteria, viruses and molds that may be present.
- Prevents disease – Pasteurization prevents juice from transmitting foodborne illnesses like E. coli or salmonella infection.
- Extends shelf life – Pasteurized juice can be safely stored for 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
- Slows oxidation – Heat inactivates enzymes that can cause browning and off-flavors.
- Improves stability – Pasteurization prevents refermentation and CO2 production from occurring.
- Ensures safety – Provides peace of mind that juice is free from pathogens and safe for all to drink.
The major downside is that pasteurization can slightly diminish the flavor and heat-sensitive nutrients in apple juice. However, it retains more nutrition than heavily processed store-bought juices.
Nutrition of pasteurized vs. fresh apple juice
Pasteurized and fresh squeezed apple juice have the same calorie, carbohydrate, sugar and protein content per serving. The main nutritional differences have to do with vitamin and mineral levels:
|Vitamin C||19% DV||20% DV|
|Folate||2% DV||3% DV|
|Potassium||5% DV||6% DV|
As you can see, pasteurization causes minimal vitamin and mineral loss. However, pasteurization destroys some heat-sensitive enzymes like catalase, bromelain and polyphenol oxidase that may provide health benefits in fresh apple juice.
How to pasteurize apple juice at home
You can pasteurize small batches of apple juice at home using simple kitchen tools. Here is a step-by-step guide:
- Wash all apples thoroughly before juicing to remove dirt and surface microbes.
- Chop apples into pieces and juice using an electric juicer, collecting the fresh juice in a clean glass container.
- Pour the apple juice into a saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally, until temperature reaches 160°F.
- Once juice reaches 160°F, maintain this temperature for 30 seconds to pasteurize.
- Remove juice from heat and quickly pour into sterilized glass bottles or jars and seal.
- Allow sealed bottles to cool, then refrigerate. Consume pasteurized juice within 5-7 days.
Make sure to use a thermometer to accurately monitor the temperature when heating the apple juice. Heating to at least 160°F for 30 seconds is sufficient to eliminate pathogens.
Is unpasteurized apple juice ever safe?
Drinking truly raw apple juice comes with an element of risk, as contamination can occur. However, many people believe the nutritional benefits outweigh the small risks. Some ways to drink raw apple juice more safely include:
- Drinking only freshly pressed juice right away rather than storing.
- Thoroughly washing apples prior to juicing.
- Only consuming juice from organic, pesticide-free apples.
- Knowing your apple source and production practices.
- Limiting intake to 4-8 oz per day.
- Avoiding juice if pregnant, very young or immunocompromised.
When handled and consumed carefully, unpasteurized apple juice can be safe for most healthy adults. But pasteurization provides an extra layer of protection for vulnerable groups.
- Pasteurization destroys pathogens in apple juice that could cause foodborne illness.
- The nutritional differences between pasteurized and fresh apple juice are relatively minor.
- Pasteurization is recommended for juice that will be stored and for vulnerable populations.
- Drinking limited amounts of fresh apple juice right after juicing is lower risk for healthy adults.
- Home pasteurization is easy – simply heat juice to 160°F for 30 seconds.