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E. coli risk prompts new cider labels

October 07, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Along with football games and fall foliage, one of the traditions of autumn is fresh apple cider bought at a roadside stand.

That cider tradition may be in jeopardy, however.

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Following E. coli outbreaks traced to unprocessed cider in other parts of the country, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has begun requiring that warnings be posted wherever unpasteurized cider is sold this fall, officials said.

Apple cider's acidity usually kills any illness-causing microbes, officials said. But when cider is fresh, E. coli can survive in the juice, and problems can arise when people drink it before the microbes die, officials said.

E. coli, which thrives in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, typically is associated with beef. But it can find its way into cider when the apples from which it is made are collected from the ground, where they can come in contact with animal waste, said Linda Dunn, a sanitarian for the Jefferson County Health Department.

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Pasteurization helps eliminate the problem, officials said.

Although unprocessed cider has been popular in the past, Dunn said she is seeing less of it and more pasteurized cider.

Dunn said she believes stores and fruit stands don't want the headaches of dealing with potential problems associated with unprocessed cider.

An official with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture saw it differently.

Pasteurizing cider is more difficult than pasteurizing other products, and it can be expensive for small processors, said Lenchen Radle, chief of the state's bureau of food safety.

"I don't think it's going to stop people from drinking it," said Radle.

Concerns over E. coli, and the work required to make cider is the reason Jefferson Orchards Inc. stopped making and selling unprocessed cider, said manager Ronald Slonaker.

The 600-acre orchard along W.Va. 9 near Kearneysville, W.Va., sold its own cider for about 15 years, Slonaker said.

Slonaker said he now sells pasteurized cider that he buys from a supplier in Frederick, Md.

Although unpasteurized cider can sometimes be found on a mound of ice in the produce section of a supermarket, some area grocers say they are shying away from the product.

"It's been so long since we have bought that kind of stuff," said Scott Barrett, manager of the Food 4 Less supermarket along Edwin Miller Boulevard in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Since Sept. 8, anyone who sells unprocessed cider has been required by the FDA to post a placard where the juice is sold to warn customers about possible problems.

The warning tells customers the juice has not been pasteurized, and "may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems."

Warning signs for other types of unprocessed beverages, such as carrot juice, must be posted at the site of sale by Nov. 5, said Dunn.

Within a year, processors will be required to include the warning on labels placed on juice containers.

Officials with the health department said parents of children in day care centers and schools that serve cider may want to ask if the products are pasteurized.

Jefferson County school officials said they believe they serve only pasteurized juice to students.

"We will certainly double-check that," said schools spokeswoman Liz Thompson.

Berkeley County school officials could not be reached for comment.

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