Almost all cider and juice is now pasteurized or otherwise treated to reduce any risks. But read the label to be certain, especially because you’ll be serving the product to children. Children, the elderly and people who are otherwise ill or have weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness.
Until the 1990s, experts generally believed that apple cider’s high acidity would protect it from most contaminants. But after two foodborne illness outbreaks linked to untreated apple cider and apple juice in 1996 — one of which resulted in a fatality — the Food and Drug Administration stepped in.
Now, processors must pasteurize or otherwise treat fruit and vegetable juice to make sure it achieves a “5-log” reduction in pathogens. That means the process must reduce the number of microorganisms 100,000-fold, or a 99.999 percent reduction. That’s the same level required for objects such as food equipment and utensils to be officially “sanitized.”
On the label, look for the word “pasteurized” or for a description of another type of treatment, or for a warning statement that the cider hasn’t been treated.
Checking the label is a simple but important step, because there are circumstances when you might encounter cider or juice that hasn’t been treated. Cider and juice that is made on-site — whether at a grocery store, a health-food store, a juice bar, a farm market, an apple orchard or anywhere, really — and then sold directly to consumers does not have to be treated. But those packages do need to carry a warning label.
If an outlet offers single servings of cider or juice, inquire if it’s been treated. Since the product doesn’t have a package with a label, you can’t know for sure unless you ask.
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.