Warning Labels Coming
to Your Roadside
Juice Stand
By Julie Vorman
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Roadside stands selling home-grown apple juice and cider this autumn must warn consumers the product may contain illness-causing bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
The new regulation has been a sensitive political issue for the Clinton Administration, which has pressed for a series of tougher U.S. food safety rules but did not want to alienate farmers and small businesses in rural states ahead of the November election.
About 3,000 small makers of juice will be affected. ``Consumers, particularly those at greatest risk, need to know that untreated juice may contain harmful bacteria that could cause serious illness so that they may make informed choices,'' the FDA said.
The new label will read ``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.'' The warning must be posted on shelves at roadside stands but will not have to appear on individual bottles until next year because of the cost to small businesses. It will not apply to large manufacturers of juices, who routinely use pasteurization or heat treatments to kill foodborne pathogens.
But the big companies said the FDA didn't go far enough with its rules for small juice makers. ``The health and safety of all Americans -- especially young children -- will be placed at risk if FDA does not require that all fruit and vegetable juices be pasteurized or otherwise treated to ensure their safety,'' said Rhona Applebaum, a vice president of the National Food Processors Association. Although about 98 percent of all juice sold in the nation is now pasteurized, the FDA estimated that some 5 million gallons would be required to bear a warning label.
The label is just in time for apple season. ``It is very good that the FDA got the warning label out before the fall, which is the season when most people drink unpasteurized juices,'' said Caroline Smith deWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. ``This shows a strong new leadership on the part of the FDA in food safety.'' In 1996, dozens of people became ill and one child died after drinking apple juice contaminated with an E. coli bacteria. Other pathogens such as salmonella and cryptosporidium have been found in cider, orange juice and frozen coconut milk sold in several states.
Last year, the FDA inspected unpasteurized apple cider produced by 237 small makers in 32 states. One firm's supply of apples tested positive for salmonella, and some 14 percent of the samples had a less virulent form of E. coli, the FDA said. The FDA also said it was still working on a broader program to require all U.S. juice makers to systematically monitor key steps where contamination is most likely to occur. The program is already required for meat, poultry and seafood processors. The new juice label takes effect on Sept. 8 for sales of apple juice and cider, and on Nov. 5 for other fruit juices. Labels will not be required for juice processed and sold by the glass at a restaurant, grocery store or lemonade stand, the FDA said.

Sightings HomePage