CORVALLIS - The appearance of fresh-pressed apple cider at roadside stands marks the arrival of fall in Oregon. But this year it also carries a warning about food safety.
Because raw cider and apple juice have been implicated in outbreaks of food poisoning, consumers need to take special precautions before drinking them, according to Carolyn Raab, Oregon State University Extension foods and nutrition specialist.
"The term 'raw' applies to cider or juice that has not been pasteurized, or heated," Raab said. "Unpasteurized apple cider has been linked with illness caused by E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. If these bacteria are in the feces of deer or cattle, apples that fall on the ground where these animals have been present could be contaminated."
The bacteria can be killed by pasteurizing apple cider. Pasteurization is particularly important for specific high risk groups of people who are more vulnerable to food poisoning. That includes pregnant women, young children, older adults, and people with AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses.
The label may not tell you whether apple cider has been pasteurized. Pasteurization is not required.
"It's safe to drink frozen concentrate as well as juice in cans, bottles and cartons intended for room temperature storage," Raab said. "Raw cider that is sold at roadside stands, however, may not have been heated to kill harmful bacteria."
You can pasteurize apple cider at home for an extra margin of safety. To pasteurize, heat it to at least 160 degrees. If you don't have an appropriate thermometer, heat to simmering (when bubbles appear on the surface).
Apple cider and juice are sometimes served at day care centers and schools. Parents and teachers should be sure these products have been pasteurized. Children should not drink unpasteurized cider while on field trips, Raab said.