Let’s face it, all of us in the juicing community are only trying to be as healthy as we possibly can be. Cold-pressed juice is packed full of goodness and nothing makes me feel better than a well planned and tailor-made juice cleanse.
Being a health-conscious individual, I had been going out of my way to ensure my eating habits were only supporting this. Taking this into account, you’ll understand how horrified I was when I found out that raw juice can actually cause food poisoning.
I was dying a bit inside! How could this be?
I thought food poisoning only came from dodgy late-night takeaways or poor meat hygiene. How could my organic, plant-based, cold-pressed juice be at fault of this deadly sin?
I had previously been avoiding all things pasteurized as a friend had told me that this kills all the goodness in the juice. What I didn’t realize was that I was unwittingly putting myself at risk of a potentially much worse fate than missing out on a few vitamins.
Pasteurized vs unpasteurized juice seems to divide the health food community. Where pasteurization kills the nasty bacteria that cause dangerous infections it also destroys some heat-sensitive vitamins and enzymes. The impact this has on your juice may or may not be worth it. The most important thing is that you make sure you’re aware of all the risks before you rule out pasteurized products all-together!
What Is Pasteurization?
So let’s take it back to basics, what even is pasteurization, and why do juice companies choose to do this?
It’s worth thinking over the whole process to get a good understanding of why companies would invest in this process.
When fruits and veggies are ready to be harvested they need to be packed, transported, stored, and finally squeezed into juice cartons. No matter how carefully the staff behaves and how well cleaned and maintained the machines and storage containers are, you’re still bringing in a mix of fruit from the environment and it’s unavoidable that contamination happens.
A small amount of soil, a couple of bruises, or a few fruit flies can be all it takes to introduce harmful bacteria to the batch.
In the case of fresh oranges, this shouldn’t matter too much initially. They have tough skins on them to protect the fruit. The problem arises when the fruit is pressed. Suddenly all the sugars are released and what started off as a single, harmless bacteria now has a lovely sugary food source available to it. This means they end up multiplying to give a deadly e. Coli or salmonella twist to your orange juice.
Companies avoid risking this outcome by selling juice pasteurized. They do this by heating the fruit juices to a high temperature (around 100 degrees celsius) which is sufficient to kill any food poisoning bugs.
There are several really great benefits to pasteurization. It not only improves food safety but it also increases the shelf life of the product. I know I personally enjoy the comfort of knowing the next carton of orange juice I buy from the grocery store has passed FDA (food and drug administration) approval and I am unlikely to end up with a serious illness.
Pasteurization is especially important for people with weaker immune systems. Pregnant women, young children, and people with an illness that affect their immunity should be ultra vigilant when considering whether or not to choose raw.
What may be an unpleasant foodborne illness for some can end up being fatal in other less fortunate individuals.
The benefits of choosing to pasteurize orange juice are pretty substantial. So why is raw juice so popular at health food stores and juice bars?
The problem comes back to the nutritional value of the juice products. High temperatures end up destroying some heat-sensitive vitamins and nutrients. Vitamin C is a classic example. Untreated juices have been shown to have a higher concentration of beneficial enzymes and nutrients compared to pasteurized.
It’s important to weigh up the risks vs benefits of choosing raw juice. When I’m juicing at home I always wash my hands first alongside making sure to wash all fruit and veg thoroughly before putting it through the juicer. It’s important to cut away any rotten or bruised portions of the fruit as these are the risky areas for infection to develop.
Finally, if I’m not going to drink it straight away it goes into a sealed container in the refrigerator or the freezer. I don’t leave the juice for longer than 24 hours in the fridge, just to be extra safe.
Unpasteurized Juice Benefits
The health benefits of unpasteurized juice are debatable. Although they contain higher levels of vitamin C and enzymes the actual, usable portion of these depends on the individual. We all have a unique balance of bacteria in our gut that digests our food and make the vitamins available to us. This is why you can’t just measure the amount of vitamins in a product and guarantee that that will end up in your system.
Some beneficial compounds found in vegetable juices (like lycopene found in tomato juice) actually need heat applied to it so that it becomes more available for the human body to use.
There’s a big debate across the United States and online (especially on social media) about whether or not raw juice is superior. The bottom line is, it does contain more nutrients. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s worth the potential health risks.
Unpasteurized Juice Risks
All raw juice should come with a warning label as instructed by the U.S. food and drug administration. The issue is, this requirement doesn’t stretch to juice sold by the glass (like apple cider) or fresh juice on stands (farmers markets, roadside stands, etc).
Whilst the chances of you catching the potentially deadly e. Coli o157 is still pretty low it’s not simply a scaremongering story. In April 2020 there was an outbreak of e. Coli was traced back to fresh bean sprouts sold at a Chicago restaurant. The CDC and FDA were called to investigate the cases and all the information is available here if you wish to find out more.
High-Pressure Processing – A Good Alternative?
So pasteurization is a tricky subject. Luckily there’s another alternative out there that many juicing companies have started to implement. It’s a process where they use high pressure instead of high temperature to kill off dangerous bacteria.
The good news???
High-pressure processing (HPP) has been scientifically proven to produce more nutrient-dense juice compared with pasteurized juice. In fact, HPP orange juice was found to contain just as much vitamin C as untreated orange juice.
Some people dislike HPP as they feel the juice can’t be considered “raw” enough. This claim has yet to be backed with any data and I am quite happy to accept that HPP juice really does bring the best f both worlds – delicious juice free of e. Coli and packed full of vitamins!
Again, it’s up to the individual if you prefer your juice “truly-raw” or not. As long as you ensure you consider the risks and make an informed decision.
Personally, I feel the risk of ending up with some nasty e. Coli infection is not worth the few extra vitamins that come with unpasteurized juice. The only raw juice I drink now is the juice I prepare at home or juice from a known and trusted source. Otherwise, I try to select juice that has been treated by HPP or pasteurized. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide if you agree with me or not!