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Falling for Cider: Food Safety Knowledge for a Delicious, Seasonal Beverage

November 19, 2015
Apple Cider

As autumn commences in earnest, we celebrate the changing of the seasons with food and drink from ripened pumpkins, squash, apples and the bounty of other Georgia Grown products.

“Georgia farmers produce more than a dozen varieties of apples,” said Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black. “Visiting one of Georgia’s orchards for apple picking is a great family agritourism activity and cider is a seasonal favorite we can enjoy now into the winter.”

The desire to be closest to the source of our food and have natural processing techniques is important for many Georgians; however, it is important to balance this with food safety. When it comes to apple cider, this means evaluating the pasteurization process of commercial cider and using safe practices when making homemade cider. The making of cider relies on yeast – which is naturally present in apples – to ferment the freshly pressed apple juice. Pasteurization, or heat treating the juice, is a common practice and regulatory requirement in Georgia, to kill bacteria that may be incidentally introduced into the cider while it is being made.

In the past decade, unpasteurized cider has led to several serious foodborne illness outbreaks (or food poisoning) in the U.S., as recently as Nov. 2015. These outbreaks were caused by the presence of E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and/or Cryptosporidium pathogens found in unpasteurized cider products. Pasteurization effectively kills these harmful bacteria during the cider processing, making it safe for everyone to consume. The process especially helps protect children, the elderly, pregnant women and any chronically ill people who may be more vulnerable to becoming sick.

How can you address packaged apple cider safety concerns? Natalie Adan, Food Safety Division Director with the Georgia Department of Agriculture has the answer:

“Packaged juice that has not been pasteurized is required to be labeled with a consumer advisory statement for children, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems,” Adan said. “Unpasteurized cider is not required to be labeled as such when it’s being sold single-serve, by the glass – which many orchards, roadside stands and farmers markets may do. Always look for a label and, when in doubt, ask.”

When making homemade cider, a few simple guidelines can dramatically reduce the risks of harmful bacteria. Always inspect the apples and avoid using any with visible signs of decay. Before making cider, start with clean hands, apples and equipment: Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least twenty seconds. Wash apples thoroughly under cool running tap water, scrubbing with a veggie brush if you have one and drying with a clean paper towel. Sanitize all cider-making equipment (an easy sanitizing solution is one tablespoon of bleach mixed with one gallon of water) by dipping it in the solution and air drying.

Once the apples are in the process of becoming cider, pasteurize the liquid by heating it to at least 160° F for 60 seconds. Let the cider cool and always store it in the refrigerator. Cider should be used immediately and will stay good in the refrigerator for up to five days (it can be frozen for longer storage).

For more tips, check in with the University of Georgia and follow the GDA on Twitter @GDAFoodSafety. Also, for fun tips about cooking your turkey next week, check out this video from our Food Safety Division.

Sources:

About the Author

Thomas Burke, born and raised in Kansas, is pursuing his Masters in Public Health at Emory University, with an emphasis in epidemiology. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Kansas State University in 2013 and worked previously at Kansas State’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. He is currently interning with the Division of Food Safety at the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

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