March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Juicing is trendy. And drinking fruit or vegetable juice in general can be healthful and refreshing. One way to ensure you're getting plenty of produce in your diet is to fill in gaps of your whole fruit and vegetable intake with 100-percent pure fruit and vegetable juice. But before taking a gulp, know your risks.
Pasteurized or "raw:" Which should you buy?
When produce is squeezed into juice, any bacteria present on its outside or inside surface can become part of the finished product. Unless juice is further processed to destroy potentially harmful pathogens, it could be dangerous for those most at risk for food poisoning, potentially causing severe diarrhea or worse symptoms in these high-risk individuals. So in the United States, most juices sold in grocery stores are pasteurized to ensure they're safe to drink. For instance, thermal pasteurization, or heat treatment, is often used to destroy harmful bacteria. Alternative pasteurization treatments are becoming more widely used, too.
Freshly squeezed juice made onsite, such as at a restaurant, juice bar, grocery or health food store, cider mill or farmers market, is not required to be pasteurized. Most people have immune systems strong enough to handle small amounts of bacteria, such as in unpasteurized or "raw" juice, and shouldn't be overly worried about its safety. But the Food and Drug Administration recommends high-risk individuals — including infants, young children, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems — drink unpasteurized juice only if it is first. brought to a boil to destroy potentially harmful bacteria. The best advice is to drink only those juices that have been pasteurized or otherwise treated to kill harmful bacteria.
Can you make fresh squeezed juice at home safely?
Yes, but clean everything, including all fruits, vegetables, cutting boards, knives, blender or juicing machine and glass or cup. Even if you're not using produce peels, clean them anyway, since bacteria on the outside can contaminate the inside of the fruit or vegetable during cutting and juicing. And even if you follow all safety habits, fresh juice can still pose a risk for food poisoning in susceptible individuals.
Three tips to follow:
1. Be a label reader.
You'll either see wording on juice packaging noting pasteurization. Otherwise, products found on grocery store shelves are unpasteurized, need to be refrigerated and have the following warning label: "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." Use these labels to determine which juice to buy.
2. Be inquisitive.
FDA doesn't require a warning label for juice or cider that's freshly squeezed and sold by the glass at farmers markets, orchards, roadside stands and in some juice bars or restaurants. When in doubt, ask whether the juice has been treated to ensure safety.
3. Be clean.
Whenever you're doing your own juicing or watching fresh juice being prepared, make sure cleanliness is evident at all stages of juicing. Then sip safely with confidence.