Fresh-squeezed orange juice is a delicious and nutritious start to the day for many people. While most commercially sold orange juice is pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria, some specialty juice bars and health food stores sell unpasteurized orange juice. This has left many consumers wondering – is unpasteurized orange juice actually safe to drink?
What is Pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a process of heating liquids to destroy potentially harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, molds and yeasts. For orange juice, the juice is typically heated to 185°F for 1 minute. This heating process destroys bacteria and molds that could grow in the juice over time. However, pasteurization can also degrade some heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C and phytonutrients in the juice.
Benefits of Pasteurized Orange Juice
The main benefit of pasteurized orange juice is that it has a longer shelf life and is safer from a foodborne illness perspective. Pasteurization kills pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli and others that could contaminate the juice during processing. It also inactivates enzymes in the juice that could cause it to spoil more quickly. Commercially sold orange juice is typically pasteurized so it can be stored for weeks to months without spoiling.
Benefits of Unpasteurized Orange Juice
Proponents of unpasteurized or “fresh-squeezed” orange juice cite several benefits compared to the pasteurized variety:
- Higher vitamin C content – Pasteurization degrades some of the vitamin C naturally found in oranges. Unpasteurized juice has more vitamin C.
- More phytonutrients – Phytonutrients like flavonoids can also degrade during pasteurization. Unpasteurized juice has higher phytonutrient levels.
- Better taste – To many, unpasteurized juice simply tastes fresher and more flavorful than heavily processed store-bought juice.
Additionally, some claim that the enzymes and probiotics naturally found in orange juice can have health benefits for digestion when consumed raw.
Safety Concerns with Unpasteurized Juice
Despite the potential benefits, drinking unpasteurized orange juice comes with safety concerns. Oranges and orange juice are vulnerable to contamination with foodborne pathogens at several steps:
- During growing/harvesting – Pathogens from animal feces or contaminated irrigation water can contaminate the orange skin.
- During processing – Bacteria present on the skin can be transferred into the juice during squeezing or cutting.
- During storage/handling – Any pathogens present can multiply if juice is left unrefrigerated.
Common high-risk pathogens that have been found in unpasteurized orange juice include Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Staphylococcus and others. This table outlines some foodborne pathogens and their associated risks if contaminated juice is consumed:
|Salmonella||Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration|
|E. coli||Bloody diarrhea, hemolytic uremic syndrome|
|Listeria||Fever, muscle aches, convulsions, miscarriage|
|Staphylococcus aureus||Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps|
Certain populations are at higher risk for foodborne illness and are typically warned against consuming unpasteurized juices:
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
- Immunocompromised individuals
Healthy adults may choose to accept the risks of consuming fresh juice. However, they should be aware of potential symptoms of foodborne illness and seek medical treatment if these occur.
Documented Outbreaks from Unpasteurized Juice
There have been several foodborne illness outbreaks linked specifically to unpasteurized orange juice in recent decades:
- 1995 – Unpasteurized OJ from a California health food store caused 25 cases of Salmonella Muenchen.
- 2005 – 70 people in Florida were sickened by Salmonella Typhimurium in orange juice from a supermarket.
- 2011 – Unpasteurized orange juice served at a Florida restaurant caused 10 cases of Salmonella Enteritidis.
These outbreaks and others clearly demonstrate that unpasteurized orange juice has the potential to harbor dangerous pathogens and cause foodborne disease. The risks are significantly higher compared to pasteurized juice.
Safety Tips for Unpasteurized Juice
If choosing to consume unpasteurized orange juice despite the risks, several precautions can help mitigate the chance of illness:
- Look for certified fresh-squeezed juice – Try to buy OJ that is certified as unprocessed and freshly squeezed to minimize chances of contamination during processing and storage.
- Consume immediately – Drink the juice within a few hours of squeezing before pathogens have time to multiply.
- Wash oranges thoroughly – If squeezing yourself, wash oranges carefully in cold water to remove surface dirt and bacteria.
- Clean equipment – Sanitize cutting boards, knives, juicers and other equipment before and after juicing.
- Keep chilled – Refrigerate juice immediately after squeezing or opening to inhibit pathogen growth.
However, even with these precautions some risk of foodborne illness remains due to potential contamination at the source.
Alternatives to Raw Juice
For those wanting to avoid the risks of unpasteurized orange juice, there are alternatives:
- Pasteurized juice – Commercially sold orange juice has been heated to destroy pathogens and is safe, if lacking some freshness.
- High-pressure processing – This non-thermal pasteurization method preserves more nutrients but still kills bacteria.
- Irradiation – Exposing juice to ionizing radiation kills pathogens while maintaining nutritional quality.
- Flash pasteurization – Heating at higher temperatures for shorter times preserves more nutrients.
These emerging alternatives can offer a compromise between safety and nutritional quality compared to traditional pasteurization methods.
Unpasteurized orange juice can harbor dangerous foodborne pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli that cause serious illness. Pasteurization remains the most reliable way to destroy these pathogens and make juice safe for consumption. While unpasteurized juice may have some additional nutritional benefits, the increased risk of foodborne illness especially in vulnerable populations likely outweighs these benefits for most consumers. Those who still wish to drink fresh-squeezed unpasteurized juice should use extreme caution and be vigilant about safety precautions to try to reduce risks.