Drinking unpasteurized juice or cider can potentially expose people to foodborne illnesses. Unlike pasteurized juices which are briefly heated to kill pathogenic microorganisms, unpasteurized juice is raw and may contain bacteria that can cause food poisoning. While the risk is not extremely high, there are still safety concerns to consider before drinking unpasteurized juice products.
What is pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a process of heating liquid foods, like juice or milk, to a specific temperature for a period of time to kill harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. It was named after the French chemist Louis Pasteur, who invented the process in the 1860s.
For juice, the two main pasteurization methods are:
- High-temperature Short Time (HTST) – Heating to 161°F for 15 seconds
- Flash pasteurization – Heating to 161°F for 15 seconds, then rapidly cooling
This short heating time is enough to kill most vegetative bacteria, molds, and yeasts in fruit juice while minimizing changes to the juice’s flavor, color, and nutrient content. Without pasteurization, these pathogenic microbes could multiply during storage and handling of the juice.
Bacteria found in unpasteurized juice
Several types of dangerous bacteria can potentially contaminate unpasteurized juice:
|Common cause of food poisoning. Produces toxin that causes severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting.
|Causes salmonellosis infection. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps.
|Causes listeriosis which can be serious in pregnant women, newborns, elderly. Fever, muscle aches, nausea.
|Parasitic infection causing cryptosporidiosis. Diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting.
These pathogens typically originate from the raw fruits and vegetables used to make the juice. E. coli and Salmonella are found in the intestines of animals and can contaminate fruits and veggies through contact with feces. Listeria is found throughout the natural environment. Cryptosporidium is a parasite that can live in soil, food, water, or surfaces.
Proper cleaning and sanitation when making juice reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of contamination. Pasteurization serves as an additional safety net to destroy any pathogens present.
There have been several food poisoning outbreaks traced back to unpasteurized juice products:
- 1996 – E. coli O157:H7 outbreak caused 70 illnesses across Washington, California, and British Columbia from Odwalla Inc. unpasteurized apple juice. A child died from complications.
- 1999 – Salmonella Muenchen outbreak caused 290 illnesses and 2 deaths across 15 states from Odwalla Inc. unpasteurized orange juice.
- 2000 – Cryptosporidium parvum outbreak caused 97 illnesses in New York from unpasteurized apple cider.
- 2005 – E. coli O111 outbreak caused 18 illnesses in California from unpasteurized apple juice made by Earth’s Best Inc.
This highlights that drinking raw, untreated juice does carry a real risk of foodborne illness. Pasteurization is a necessary and effective step for juice processors to take.
Certain people are at higher risk of getting severely sick from the bacteria in unpasteurized juice:
- Young children
- Elderly adults
- Pregnant women
- People with weakened immune systems
Their bodies have a harder time fighting off foodborne pathogens. Pregnant women are also at risk of miscarriage or stillbirth from listeriosis. For these vulnerable groups, drinking pasteurized juice is strongly recommended.
The specific risk of getting sick from drinking a glass of unpasteurized juice depends on:
- Initial contamination level – Higher bacterial loads increase illness risk.
- Storage time and temperature – Pathogens multiply over time, faster at warmer temps.
- Produce quality – Damaged, bruised, or dropped produce can harbor more bacteria.
- Juicing process – Dirty equipment and poor handling introduces pathogens.
For homemade juices, the FDA considers cider and other fruit/vegetable juices “potentially hazardous foods” due to contamination risks. Only pasteurized packaged juices from commercial processors are considered “not potentially hazardous” due to required food safety controls.
Juice Processor Requirements
In the US, juice processors must follow regulations set by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to minimize hazards:
- Follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)
- Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC)
- Sanitation controls for facility and equipment
- Supply chain controls
- Testing procedures and sampling plans
Despite these preventive measures, pasteurization is still required as an additional safety step for juices. Exceptions include certain fruit and vegetable juice blends that have been granted a food additive regulation permitting sale without pasteurization. These low-acid juices still require HACCP controls and 5 log pathogen reduction treatment.
Unpasteurized Juice Safety Tips
Those who still wish to consume unpasteurized juice should follow these food safety recommendations:
- Choose fresh, high-quality fruits/vegetables – avoid old or damaged produce
- Inspect containers for leaks, rust, dents – bacteria can enter damaged packaging
- Only purchase from local producers following sanitary juicing practices
- Refrigerate juice immediately at temps below 40°F
- Consume within 3-5 days
- Wash all fruits/veggies thoroughly before juicing
- Clean juicer parts thoroughly before and after juicing
Even with these precautions, there is no way to fully guarantee the safety of unpasteurized juice products. Consumers should be aware of potential risks.
Drinking raw, unpasteurized juice does introduce the risk of foodborne illnesses from bacterial contamination. However, following strict sanitation, storage, and handling practices can reduce the likelihood. Pasteurization remains the most reliable method for creating safe juice products, providing a major public health benefit. Those at higher risk for illness should avoid unpasteurized juices altogether. Ultimately, consumers should weigh the potential risks and benefits when making juicing choices.