Unpasteurized juice, also known as raw juice, is juice that has not undergone pasteurization. Pasteurization is a process of heating liquids to high temperatures to kill pathogens like bacteria and viruses. During pregnancy, there are concerns around consuming unpasteurized juices due to the risk of foodborne illnesses. In this article, we will examine the safety concerns, benefits, and recommendations around drinking unpasteurized juice during pregnancy.
What is Pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a process named after scientist Louis Pasteur. It involves heating liquids to a specific temperature for a period of time to kill harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and molds.
There are two main types of pasteurization used on juices:
- High Temperature Short Time (HTST) – Heating to 161°F for 15 seconds
- Flash pasteurization – Heating to 165°F for 15 seconds
Both methods are sufficient to achieve a 5-log reduction of the most heat-resistant pathogens in juice while maintaining the nutritional and sensory qualities.
Why Pasteurize Juices?
The purpose of pasteurizing juices is to make them safe for consumption. When fruits and vegetables are juiced, any pathogens present on the surface can contaminate the juice.
Common foodborne illnesses from unpasteurized juices include:
- E. coli
- Listeria monocytogenes
Consuming these pathogens can cause serious gastrointestinal illness. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
Pasteurization is an effective kill step to eliminate these risks in juices. For example, pasteurization achieves a 5-log reduction of E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes. This means 99.999% of those pathogens present are killed.
Unpasteurized Juice and Pregnancy Risks
Pregnant women are at higher risk for developing foodborne illness. Changes in the immune system during pregnancy make expectant mothers more susceptible. Illnesses during pregnancy can also pose risks to the developing fetus.
According to the CDC, pregnant women account for over 90,000 foodborne illnesses each year. Of these, over 20,000 are caused by Listeria monocytogenes from foods like deli meats, soft cheeses, and raw sprouts.
Consuming unpasteurized juice introduces risks of contracting these foodborne pathogens. This can negatively impact both the mother and fetus.
Risks to the Mother
If a pregnant woman develops a foodborne illness, it can have serious health consequences. Listeriosis, for example, can cause fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea.
More severe infection may lead to septicemia, meningitis, pneumonia, and even death in rare cases. During pregnancy, the mortality rate from Listeriosis is over 15%.
Other pathogens like Salmonella can cause dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea. This electrolyte imbalance can have adverse effects during pregnancy.
Overall, foodborne illness places strain on the mother’s body that can impact the pregnancy. Seeking medical treatment also introduces risks like certain medications or procedures.
Risks to the Fetus
Illness in a pregnant woman also threatens the health of the fetus. Bacteria and viruses can cross the placenta and infect the fetus directly.
Listeriosis increases risk for pregnancy complications like:
- Preterm labor
- Life-threatening blood infection (sepsis)
Other pathogens may increase risks for birth defects, neurological issues, and developmental delays.
Foodborne illness can also cause dehydration, fever, and electrolyte imbalance that impact fetal development. Avoiding high-risk foods like raw juice is key to promoting fetal health.
Benefits of Unpasteurized Juice
Despite the risks, some recommend consuming unpasteurized juice during pregnancy for its nutritional benefits. These benefits come from enzymes, vitamins, and probiotics.
Enzymes are proteins that drive reactions in the body. They play important roles in digestion, immunity, and energy production.
Some argue that pasteurization destroys or damages enzymes naturally found in raw fruits and vegetables. Consuming raw juice preserves these enzymes.
Potential benefits include improved digestion and absorption of nutrients. However, there is limited evidence that plant enzymes from juices provide direct health benefits for humans.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in beneficial vitamins. Some vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins are heat sensitive.
Pasteurization may destroy or reduce levels of these vitamins. Drinking raw juice could potentially provide higher doses of vitamins and nutrients.
However, the impact pasteurization has on the nutritional content depends on factors like the heating method and juice composition. Losses are minimal with HTST pasteurization.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits. They help maintain balance of good bacteria in the gut microbiome.
Raw juices may naturally contain probiotic bacteria. Kefir, a fermented milk beverage, is also sometimes avoided during pregnancy for this reason.
However, the types and amounts of probiotics in unpasteurized juice are unknown. Their survival through the digestive system is also variable. So any benefits are difficult to predict.
Recommendations for Pregnancy
Due to the potential risks, health authorities recommend avoiding unpasteurized juice during pregnancy. This includes both homemade juices and premade bottled juices.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the sale of unpasteurized juice products across state lines. But up to 20 states allow retail sales within state borders.
If choosing to drink unpasteurized juice, pregnant women should take precautions. Tips include:
- Thoroughly clean all fruits/vegetables before juicing
- Use a centrifugal juicer with fast spinning blades
- Drink juice immediately after making
- Store unused juice in fridge for no more than 24 hours
Despite these precautions, there is no way to guarantee safety. The risks likely outweigh minimal benefits.
Most health experts encourage pregnant women to play it safe and only consume pasteurized products. Fortunately, high-pressure processing and flash pasteurization help retain nutrients in juices with minimal losses.
Women should also rinse all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption. This helps remove any pathogens living on the surface. Practicing general food safety is important for everyone, especially expectant mothers.
Juice-Related Outbreaks and Recalls
There have been many food poisoning outbreaks and product recalls related to unpasteurized juice over the years. These incidents further demonstrate the potential risks.
E. coli Outbreak – 1996
In 1996, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was linked to fresh apple juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. The raw, unpasteurized juice led to 66 illness cases across several states and one death. Of the cases, 14 involved pregnant women with three suffering miscarriages or fetal death.
This outbreak prompted regulation requiring warning labels on unpasteurized juice products.
Salmonella Outbreak – 2005
In 2005, an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium was traced back to orange juice from a California production facility. Over 87 illness cases in 14 states were reported, with 31 hospitalizations. Two fetal deaths occurred among pregnant women.
The facility was not pasteurizing the orange juice, allowing Salmonella to contaminate the product. This led to new juice facility requirements.
Cryptosporidium Recall – 2011
In 2011, a recall was issued for nearly 300,000 bottles of Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend. An outbreak of over 140 Cryptosporidium infections across 8 states was linked to the unpasteurized juice. At least 33 people were hospitalized, and one death reported.
This was one of the largest recalls of unpasteurized juice and highlights the widespread impact outbreaks can have.
Government Regulation of Juice Safety
In response to various outbreaks, the U.S. government has mandated regulations and guidelines to improve juice safety. However, unpasteurized juice remains exempt from some federal food safety requirements.
FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
This 2011 act mandated key preventative controls for many food producers. All producers except certain exempted farms must have food safety plans and take steps to prevent contamination.
However, the FDA specifically exempted facilities producing unpasteurized juices and cider from the rule. Despite consumer risks, these juices don’t face the same safety requirements.
Warning Label Requirement
In 2001, the FDA began requiring warning labels on all packaged unpasteurized juice products. The labels must state:
“WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and, therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.”
While this raises consumer awareness, it does not prevent contaminated juice from being sold. Fortunately, less than 1% of commercial juice now remains unpasteurized.
HACCP for Juice Processing
The FDA established Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) requirements for all fruit and vegetable juice processing in 2001.
Juice facilities must analyze hazards and implement procedures to minimize contamination. They are also subject to more frequent inspections.
Despite these measures, outbreaks can still occur if procedures break down and pathogens get into juice. Mandatory pasteurization for all juice could better guarantee safety.
Alternative Pasteurization Methods
As an alternative to traditional thermal pasteurization, high pressure processing (HPP) can also inactivate pathogens in juice. This allows juice to retain its raw quality with improved safety.
How HPP Works
With HPP, sealed packages of juice are placed in a vessel and subjected to extremely high water pressure, up to 87,000 psi.
The high pressure inactivates bacteria, viruses, parasites, and molds in the juice. HPP provides a 5-log pathogen reduction like thermal pasteurization.
Benefits of HPP
Unlike heating methods, HPP does not damage the taste, nutrients, enzymes, or vitamins in juice. It maintains key qualities found in raw juices.
The equipment cost for HPP is also lower compared to large-scale thermal pasteurization. HPP takes juices from an unsafe product to providing the “freshest taste achievable” for consumers.
Currently, less than 1% of U.S. juice producers utilize HPP, but adoption is expected to grow. More brands are using it to meet demand for products perceived as natural, safe, and nutritious.
Making Your Own Unpasteurized Juice
Some pregnant women consider making their own unpasteurized juices at home. If choosing to go this route, proper food safety steps are critical.
Follow these best practices for making homemade raw juice:
- Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before juicing
- Scrub firm produce with a clean brush
- Sanitize cutting boards, knives, juicers, and work surfaces
- Only use clean, cool water for washing and rinsing produce
- Make sure juices are fully refrigerated within 2 hours of juicing
- Discard juice after 24 hours of storage in the refrigerator
- Wash hands thoroughly before and during prep
- Avoid juicing if you are ill
Centrifugal juicers that grind produce at high speeds are best. Masticating juicers operate at slower speeds, allowing more time for pathogen growth.
Also consider buying a juicer specifically designed for safety. For example, the Hurom H-AA Slow Juicer has a cold-pressing auger, anti-oxidation technology, and BPA-free materials.
Investing in a quality juicer optimizes nutrition and minimizes foodborne illness risks.
Pasteurized Juice Brands
Rather than making your own, purchasing pre-made pasteurized juices is the safest option during pregnancy. Here are some top brands offering nutritious juices:
Tropicana is one of the most recognizable juice brands. They use flash pasteurization to ensure product safety while maintaining nutritional content. Their orange juices provide important vitamin C and folate.
After their E. coli outbreak in the 1990s, Odwalla overhauled procedures and now pasteurizes all juice products. Their fruit and vegetable blends provide nutrients from whole foods.
Under the PepsiCo brand, Naked Juice uses high pressure processing on their smoothies and juices. This provides great flavor and nutrition in a safe format.
Recently acquired by Starbucks, Evolution Fresh offers cold-pressed, HPP-treated juices. Their green juices provide phytonutrients and antioxidants from leafy greens.
Suja utilizes HPP on elements in their cold-pressured juices. They focus on organic ingredients with functional benefits like anti-inflammatory turmeric and ginger.
Is it safe to drink any raw juices during pregnancy?
No, raw and unpasteurized juice from any source should be avoided during pregnancy. Even fresh-squeezed juices made at home or at juice bars carry risks. Pasteurization is the only way to ensure pathogens are eliminated.
What juices cause the most food poisoning?
Apple juice, orange juice, and other fruit/vegetable blend juices have been linked to E. coli, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, and Listeria outbreaks over the years when unpasteurized.
Can you get sick immediately after drinking bad juice?
It may take 12 hours to 9 days for symptoms of foodborne illness to manifest after ingesting contaminated juice. The timing depends on the pathogen and individual immune response.
Do commercial juicers kill all the bacteria?
No, typical juicing processes cannot guarantee the removal of harmful bacteria without pasteurization. Centrifugal juicers may remove some pathogens, but significant risks remain.
The Bottom Line
Drinking unpasteurized juice during pregnancy can introduce dangerous pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella. These can lead to life-threatening complications for both mother and baby. While pasteurization slightly reduces some nutrients, it eliminates these safety risks.
Pregnant women are better off choosing pasteurized juices from reputable brands. If making juice at home, be meticulous in produce washing, sanitation, and storage. But for optimal safety, avoid unpasteurized juices throughout pregnancy. Focus on getting nutrients from cooked foods, pasteurized dairy, and juices treated by heat or high pressure processing.