ROCKVILLE, Md. Although only 2% of fruit and vegetable juices sold in the United States are unpasteurized, the feds aren't taking any more chances with juice-related illnesses.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced a new preventive strategy for increasing food safety and is planning control programs designed for industry, new labeling for products and consumer and manufacturer education programs. The plan will specifically include education about potential risks from fresh, unpasteurized apple and orange juice to the vulnerable populations.
"Apple season is coming, and is already here in some parts of the country, and we are making this a top priority," said FDA spokeswoman Bernice Friedlander. "We have asked the industry to take preventive measures."
Because the ruling is not yet official, Friedlander said the FDA voluntarily asked the industry to either pasteurize the juices or add warning labels to the products. "So far, the industry has been cooperative," she said.
The new ruling to be proposed by the FDA later this year will require Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) safety programs at all appropriate juice processing plants. HACCP is a science-based system designed to maintain food safety through controls during production and processing.
HACCP plans are tailored to individual manufacturing plants and entail identifying critical control points at which specific safeguards can be implemented to reduce, prevent or eliminate problems.
Until the HACCP plans are implemented, the FDA is considering a ruling to require a statement of risk on all labels of fresh apple juice products.
The proposed unpasteurized juice labeling by the FDA would state:
The consumer education programs planned by the FDA will focus on communicating the risks of untreated juice products to the most vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly. The industry education programs will focus more on ensuring the processing plant managers and workers understand and apply good manufacturing practices in their operations, according to an FDA report.
The FDA will publish the complete plan later this year.
This plan comes after several outbreaks of foodborne illness in recent years. Following two outbreaks of Escherichiacoli O157:H7 traced to apples last fall, the FDA called on experts in the medical field, juice manufacturers, fruit growers, etc., to evaluate and review the technologic and safety factors associated with fresh juices.
Outbreaks from cider and juice have been recognized for decades. Sporadic cases are probably common but unrecognized. Current production practices do not guarantee the safety of apple juice, apple cider and orange juice, according to Michael Friedman, MD, deputy commissioner for operations with the FDA.
An outbreak was revealed last fall in Connecticut when 10 cases of E. coli O157:H7 were reported, three of which involved children. The cases were linked to drinking fresh apple cider. Although there were no deaths, three cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) were discovered a high percentage considering previous studies showed only 5% of cases go on to develop HUS.
Another outbreak of E coliO157:H7 struck 66 people in three western states and British Columbia. Ten children developed HUS and one child died. All cases were linked to juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc.
Until the FDA-proposed ruling becomes effective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said consumers can reduce their risk for enteric infections by only drinking pasteurized or boiled apple cider and juice.
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