Unpasteurized apple cider remains sexy to some

In October, 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, Calif. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider –and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believe that some of the apples used to make the cider may have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

In the fall of 1998, I accompanied one of my four daughters on a kindergarten trip to the farm. After petting the animals and touring the crops –I questioned the fresh manure on the strawberries –we were assured that all the food produced was natural. We then returned for unpasteurized apple cider. The host served the cider in a coffee urn, heated, so my concern about it being unpasteurized was abated. I asked: "Did you serve the cider heated because you heard about other outbreaks and were concerned about liability?" She responded, "No. The stuff starts to smell when it’s a few weeks old and heating removes the smell."

Despite dozens of outbreaks linked to unpasteurized cider, some still feel the nostaligia, like the story in today’s New York Daily Messenger, entitled, Bring back unpasteurized cider.

In a food porn moment, the story says,

Fresh, delicious cider should be as sacred to Albany as oranges and Key Lime pie are to Tallahassee or unadulterated maple syrup to Montpelier (about the only thing you can go jail for in Vermont short of murder is putting beet juice in your maple syrup.) New York state, after all, has the most renown orchards in the country when it comes to quality apples.
And that’s where the problem started.
The push for treated cider came from the Victor-based New York Apple Association after an E. coli outbreak in 2005 was traced to cider from an orchard up in the Clinton County near the Quebec border. A bill was sponsored by Albany politicians who said that the measure was needed to restore public confidence in New York apples, and then-Gov. Pataki agreed, signing the law.

Except that identified problems with cider and E. coli O157:H7 can be traced back to 1980, so the story is wrong by about 25 years.

Here’s the abstract from a paper Amber Luedtke and I published back in 2002:

A review of North American apple cider outbreaks caused by E. coli O157:H7 demonstrated that in the U.S., government officials, cider producers, interest groups and the public were actively involved in reforming and reducing the risk associated with unpasteurized apple cider. In Canada, media coverage was limited and government agencies inadequately managed and communicated relevant updates or new documents to the industry and the public. Therefore, a survey was conducted with fifteen apple cider producers in Ontario, Canada, to gain a better understanding of production practices and information sources. Small, seasonal operations in Ontario produce approximately 20,000 litres of cider per year. Improper processing procedures were employed by some operators, including the use of unwashed apples and not using sanitizers or labeling products accurately. Most did not pasteurize or have additional safety measures. Larger cider producers ran year-long, with some producing in excess of 500,000 litres of cider. Most sold to large retail stores and have implemented safety measures such as HACCP plans, cider testing and pasteurization. All producers surveyed received government information on an irregular basis, and the motivation to ensure safe, high-quality apple cider was influenced by financial stability along with consumer and market demand, rather than by government enforcement.