Safety Tip: Buying Apple Cider

by in Food Safety, September 25, 2009

Hot Apple Cider
Every fall, my mom brings out her special tray of warm apple cider flavored with a cinnamon stick. Although delicious, not all apple cider is the safest. Find out what you should be looking for when purchasing your next container.

The Problem
Ever been apple picking? If so, you probably remember seeing fallen apples everywhere and maybe even tripping over a few. These gems don’t go to waste — some farmers collect the usable ones to make the bottled cider that we all love. Of course, you’re not the only one tripping over those fallen bits; animals often graze in apple orchards and fields — just think about what else they’re getting on those apples.

Pasteurized vs. Unpasteurized
Most cider is perfectly fine; it’s the unpasteurized stuff you want to be mindful of. After the apples are picked (or picked up), many commercial cider makers heat their liquid to kill the bad bacteria. Some smaller farms may not have the money to invest in pasteurization equipment or feel that pasteurization ruins the taste of the cider, so they sell it unpasteurized. Unpasteurized cider was linked to numerous outbreaks of E. Coli and Salmonella in the late 1990s.

Making It Safe
What’s a cider lover to do? Dana has a farm near her home where they do pasteurize their cider, but when I went apple picking a few years back, I saw a large note on the container indicating that the cider was not pasteurized. Ever since those outbreaks a decade ago, the FDA has required unpasteurized cider products to have a clear label. If you see one, it likely says “This product has not been pasteurized and, therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness to children, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems.” Your local farm stand may not advertise it one way or the other. When in doubt, check the labels and ask.

While a sip of unpasteurized cider here or there might be harmless, keep in mind what the FDA notice says — don’t serve any unpasteurized foods to high-risk folks like older adults, infants, young kids, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system. If you do buy some unpasteurized cider, freezing or refrigerating it will not destroy the harmful bacteria, but boiling the cider for 10 minutes will. Added bonus: pasteurized cider lasts longer (up to three weeks in the refrigerator).

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