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Ensure Safety of Apple Cider Before Purchasing

Posted: September 22, 2012

Apple cider is a traditional beverage produced and consumed in the fall...

Though illness due to cider is rare, outbreaks of diarrheal illness due to apple cider have been reported in the United States in the last decade. According to the Food and Drug Association, when fruits and vegetables are fresh-squeezed to produce juice, any bacteria that are present on the inside or the outside of the produce can become part of the finished product. Unless the juice is further processed to destroy harmful bacteria, it could be dangerous for those most at risk for foodborne illness.

One of the most common treatments used to kill pathogens (harmful microorganisms) is pasteurization. Pasteurized cider is heated to a high temperature for a short time before it is sold. By pasteurizing juice, pathogens which may be present in the liquid are killed. Most cider sold in grocery stores has been heat treated as part of the concentration process and this is equivalent to pasteurization. 

There are a few things consumers can do to be sure they reduce their risk of foodborne illness from apple cider. First check the label. In particular, look for the warning label on any packaged juice product that may have been made on site, such as at grocery and health food stores, cider mills, or farm markets. To minimize health risk, those who are most at risk for foodborne illness (young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems) should not consume packaged juice that bears a warning label or any other form of juice that is known to be untreated (for example, untreated juice served by the glass at a roadside cider stand).

Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Pasteurized juice is normally found in your grocers’ frozen food cases, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in containers such as juice boxes, bottles, or cans. Do not hesitate to ask questions if the label is unclear or if the juice or cider is sold by the glass.

If you have a home juicing machine, you should also follow a few precautions. Before you begin, rinse produce well under running water, scrubbing rinds with a brush. Also, make sure cutting boards, counter tops, utensils and the juicer itself are clean before you start.

Food safety experts recommend drinking homemade juice immediately. If you’re going to store it, you might consider heating it to a boil before refrigerating just to be certain any pathogens don’t have a chance to multiply to dangerous levels before you have a chance to consume the juice.

Below is a recipe for spiced apple cider which you can try:

1 gallon naturally sweet apple cider
1 cup brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 Tablespoon whole cloves
1 Tablespoon whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon mace (optional)

Tie cinnamon, cloves, allspice and mace together in cheesecloth or use a coffee filter tied with string. Combine cider and brown sugar in a large pot. Add spices. Bring mixture to a slow boil. Then turn heat down and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove spice bag from pot. Serve hot cider in mugs. Spiced apple cider may be kept warm in a crock-pot (slow cooker) on low setting. Yield 18 servings.

Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension of Lackawanna County.