Drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice is a delicious way to start the day. The sweet, tangy flavor provides a burst of vitamin C and other nutrients. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether it’s safe to drink unpasteurized orange juice or if pasteurization is necessary to kill harmful bacteria.
What is pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a process of heating liquids to destroy bacteria that can cause disease or spoilage. It was named after French scientist Louis Pasteur, who discovered that applying heat to liquids like milk and wine for a period of time could help preserve them.
There are two main methods of pasteurization used on fruit juices like orange juice:
- High-temperature Short-Time (HTST) – The juice is heated to 161°F for 15-30 seconds.
- Flash pasteurization – The juice is heated to 190-212°F for 1-2 minutes.
After being heated, the juice is rapidly cooled down. The pasteurization process extends the shelf life of juices but does not make them shelf-stable. Refrigeration is still needed.
Benefits of pasteurization
Here are some of the main benefits of drinking pasteurized orange juice:
- Kills pathogens – Pasteurization destroys bacteria, viruses, molds, and other organisms that can cause foodborne illnesses like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.
- Extends shelf life – Pasteurized OJ will stay fresh in the fridge for weeks longer than unpasteurized juice.
- Retains nutrients – Short-time heat exposure during pasteurization has minimal impact on the vitamin and antioxidant content.
- Improves safety – Pasteurization makes juice safer for at-risk groups like pregnant women, infants, young children, and the elderly.
Benefits of unpasteurized orange juice
Drinking fresh, unpasteurized orange juice has some potential upsides as well:
- More natural taste – No heat processing preserves the natural fresh-squeezed flavor.
- May contain more nutrients – Some studies find slightly higher amounts of vitamins C and B in unpasteurized OJ.
- Has beneficial probiotics – Unpasteurized juice contains probiotic bacteria that can improve gut health.
- No chemical residues – Pasteurization may lead to small amounts of chemical byproducts over time.
This table compares the nutrient content of 8 ounces (240 ml) of pasteurized and unpasteurized orange juice:
As you can see, both types of orange juice are very similar in macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and calories. Some studies show slightly higher vitamin C levels in unpasteurized juice, but the differences are small.
Risk of foodborne illness
The biggest health concern with drinking unpasteurized juice is the risk of food poisoning from harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and listeria.
Pasteurization is very effective at destroying these pathogens. However, it’s impossible to guarantee that unpasteurized juice won’t become contaminated:
- Bacteria may be present on the orange peel or get transferred during squeezing.
- Juice equipment and containers could harbor bacteria if not properly sanitized.
- Unpasteurized juice supports microbial growth during storage and transport.
Several past foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked to unpasteurized orange juice:
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Children, pregnant women, seniors, and those with weakened immune systems have the highest risk of complications from food poisoning. Healthy adults can usually recover after a few days of diarrhea and vomiting.
Quality and freshness
Pasteurization and proper refrigerated storage are important for maintaining the quality and fresh taste of orange juice over time. Here are some things that can happen to juice without pasteurization:
- Microbial growth causes spoilage and unpleasant flavors.
- Enzymes like pectinase break down compounds, thinning the texture.
- Vitamin C degrades through oxidation, especially with exposure to light or heat.
- Volatile aroma compounds that provide flavor decrease over time.
Proper cold storage and acidity help limit these effects in unpasteurized juice. But pasteurized orange juice will maintain peak quality and freshness for a longer shelf life.
Juice processing methods
There are a few types of processed orange juice to be aware of:
- Fresh-squeezed – Unpasteurized juice squeezed directly from oranges.
- Pasteurized – Freshly squeezed juice that has gone through the pasteurization process.
- Not from concentrate – Pasteurized juice that has been frozen then thawed before packaging.
- From concentrate – Juice concentrated into a frozen slurry, then reconstituted with water.
“Not from concentrate” is pasteurized and more shelf-stable than fresh juice. But it still needs refrigeration and has a shorter shelf life than concentrate. Read labels closely to know what you’re getting.
Here are some tips on safely enjoying orange juice:
- Drink pasteurized juice whenever possible, especially for high-risk groups.
- Only drink fresh unpasteurized juice if you’re otherwise healthy.
- Choose freshly squeezed juice at juice bars made daily.
- Refrigerate all types of juice promptly and follow storage guidelines.
- Wash oranges thoroughly before juicing at home.
- Clean juicers properly between uses.
Pasteurized juice is the safer choice for many people. But drinking unpasteurized juice is unlikely to cause problems for most healthy adults if handled properly. Use your best judgement and enjoy orange juice as part of an overall healthy diet.
Drinking unpasteurized orange juice provides more natural flavor and beneficial probiotics compared to pasteurized juice. However, pasteurization destroys pathogens and gives juice a longer shelf life. While the risk of foodborne illness from unpasteurized juice is low for healthy adults, pasteurized juice is considered safer overall. If you choose to drink fresh unpasteurized orange juice, handle it carefully and drink within a couple days for best quality and safety.