Is it safe to drink unpasteurized juice?

Drinking fresh, unpasteurized juice has become increasingly popular in recent years. Advocates claim it contains more nutrients and enzymes compared to pasteurized juice. However, there are also food safety concerns to consider with unpasteurized juice.

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 bacteria. It was invented by Louis Pasteur in the 1860s as a method to prevent spoilage in wine and beer.

For juices, pasteurization involves heating the juice to at least 165°F for 15 seconds. This short burst of heat is enough to kill most dangerous pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. However, it does not significantly change the flavor or nutrient content of the juice.

Differences between pasteurized and unpasteurized juice

The main difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized juice lies in the potential presence of harmful bacteria:

  • Pasteurized juice has been heated to destroy pathogens.
  • Unpasteurized juice may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

However, there are some other differences as well:

Pasteurized Juice Unpasteurized Juice
Kills harmful bacteria through heat treatment May contain harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella
Longer shelf life due to lack of microbial growth Shorter shelf life due to potential microbial growth
May have slightly decreased nutrient content from heat Contains all original nutrients and enzymes
Flavor unchanged Natural, fresh flavor

As you can see, the main risk with drinking unpasteurized juice is the potential presence of dangerous bacteria. However, some people feel the extra enzymes and natural flavors in raw juice make this a worthwhile gamble.

Benefits of drinking unpasteurized juice

There are two main benefits that proponents claim with drinking unpasteurized juice:

More nutrients

Pasteurization exposes juice to high heat, which can damage or destroy nutrients like vitamin C and B vitamins. Unpasteurized juice contains all the original vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients found in the fruits and vegetables.

Natural enzymes

Enzymes are proteins that help speed up chemical reactions in the body. They play important roles in digestion. Supporters believe raw juices contain beneficial enzymes that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients.

However, there is limited scientific research comparing pasteurized and unpasteurized juice to determine if there are significant nutritional differences. More studies are needed.

Risks of drinking unpasteurized juice

The biggest risk is contamination with potentially deadly bacteria. Unpasteurized juice may harbor:

  • E. coli – Causes diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. Can lead to kidney failure.
  • Salmonella – Causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. Can be life-threatening.
  • Listeria monocytogenes – Causes fever, muscle aches, nausea. May be fatal for unborn babies.
  • Cryptosporidium – Causes profuse, watery diarrhea. May be deadly for people with weak immune systems.

These bacteria are commonly found in the intestines of animals and can contaminate fruits and vegetables through contact with animal or human feces. Proper hand washing and sanitation procedures are critical when making unpasteurized juices to minimize contamination.

However, even with good sanitation practices, there is no way to fully guarantee unpasteurized juice is free of pathogens. The bacteria may be undetectable without laboratory testing.

Foodborne illness outbreaks

There have been many food poisoning outbreaks linked to unpasteurized juice over the years:

  • 1996 – Odwalla unpasteurized apple juice contaminated with E. coli sickened 66 people and killed 1 child.
  • 1999 – Unpasteurized orange juice gave 25 people Salmonella.
  • 2000 – Unpasteurized apple cider infected 30 people with E. coli.
  • 2001 – Eighty people developed Salmonella from unpasteurized orange juice.

After these outbreaks, the FDA now requires warning labels on unpasteurized juice to alert consumers about the risks.

Juice-related illness symptoms

Common symptoms of foodborne illness from contaminated juice include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea – may be bloody or contain mucus
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches

Symptoms may start within a few hours after drinking tainted juice or could take up to 10 days to develop, depending on the pathogen. The illness is usually self-limiting and goes away within 5-7 days. However, some people may require hospitalization for dehydration or kidney failure.

Long-term consequences

While most healthy people will recover from the acute infection, severe cases can have lasting effects. Potential long-term consequences include:

  • Kidney failure or insufficiency
  • Chronic arthritis from reactive arthritis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome – paralysis from nerve inflammation
  • Miscarriage or premature delivery in pregnant women

People with weakened immune systems are most at risk for complications and severe illness.

Groups at highest risk for illness

The FDA recommends children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems avoid drinking unpasteurized juice due to heightened risk of severe complications. Other high risk groups include:

  • Young children under age 5
  • Adults over age 65
  • People with chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, kidney disease
  • People taking immunosuppressant medications like steroids or chemotherapy
  • People with HIV/AIDS
  • Transplant recipients taking anti-rejection medications

Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get listeriosis from contaminated food and drink. Listeria infection during pregnancy may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, or illness/death in newborns.

Is unpasteurized juice worth the risk?

Drinking raw, unpasteurized juice may offer some additional nutrients and enzymes compared to pasteurized versions. However, consuming untreated juice also comes with real hazards and potentially life-threatening illnesses, especially for at-risk groups.

The dangers seem to outweigh potential benefits for most people. Pasteurized juice eliminates the risk of foodborne pathogens while preserving most of the original nutritional content. But those committed to drinking untreated juice can take precautions to reduce (but not eliminate) the risk:

  • Only consume juice from reputable producers that follow sanitary processes
  • Avoid “fresh pressed” juice from restaurants or street vendors where sanitation is unknown
  • Look for warning labels about potential bacterial contamination risks
  • Keep juice refrigerated and discard after a few days
  • Wash produce thoroughly before juicing at home
  • Avoid giving unpasteurized juice to children, elderly, or pregnant women


Drinking raw, unpasteurized juice does come with some risks due to potential contamination with dangerous bacteria. Pasteurization helps make juice safer by destroying pathogens through heat treatment. However, pasteurization may slightly reduce some nutrients in juice. Those wanting to obtain the most nutrition from juice while avoiding the hazards of untreated varieties could try:

  • Drinking pasteurized juice to stay safe
  • Eating whole fruits and vegetables to obtain maximum nutrition
  • Consuming a limited amount of fresh juice from known safe sources

In the end, the healthiest approach is likely avoiding excessive fruit juice altogether and getting natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytonutrients from a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables.

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