Applying best practices to fresh, untreated apple cider production will not guarantee that the cider will be pathogen free. However, applying best practices in the context of a HACCP program will substantially reduce the likelihood of contamination and illness. FDA is currently working to develop a HACCP rule for the juice industry that will provide a science-based and rational structure for applying food safety controls that will reduce contamination to acceptable levels. FDA is also proposing a 5 log reduction of pertinent pathogens as the criterion to measure acceptable levels of reduction. Concurrently, industry associations and the public health and scientific community are working to aid apple cider and other juice producers in better identifying those practices that are most effective in controlling pathogens. The purpose of this section is to identify some areas where scientific studies are currently being conducted or areas where additional work is needed.
Possible Control Methods
The most extensively used means of controlling pathogens in fruit juices is pasteurization. Pasteurization requires that cider be subjected to a process that applies heat at an appropriate temperature for a specified period of time. Minimum temperatures and times are determined from accepted scientific studies, and may vary depending on the type of pasteurizer used and the amount of organic particulate in the cider. Pasteurization equipment employing continuous flow processing should have a safety return loop (by-pass or flow diversion valve) to insure that any product that has not been exposed to the scheduled pasteurization times and temperatures is diverted and reprocessed or discarded. The continuous flow pasteurizer also should be equipped with an automatic time and temperature recording device to provide a permanent record for the producer. Batch pasteurizers should be equipped with a means for measuring time and temperature for each batch. Pasteurization at minimum acceptable times and temperatures usually does not have an adverse affect on flavor or quality. Such pasteurization is different from commercial sterilization used to produce shelf-stable juices. These products are processed at higher temperatures for longer times.
Other possible control methods discussed at the 1996 Public Meeting included: (1) UV treatment, (2) high hydrostatic pressure (high pressure sterilization), (3) electric resistance (ohmic) heating, (4) aseptic packaging, (5) ultrafiltration, (6) pulsed electric field, (7) electromagnetic fields, (8) pulsed light, (9) ozone treatment of wash water and cider, (10) hot water rinse of apples, (11) irradiation, and (12) freezing and thawing. Studies are needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of these and other possible methods in controlling pathogens. Pertinent pathogens include not only E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, but also parasites such as Cryptosporidium which are more resistant to many types of chemical treatment than bacterial pathogens.
Verification of Control Methods
The risk of contamination in apple cider can be reduced by using best control practices only if the processor takes steps to ensure that these practices are applied consistently and effectively to every lot of cider produced. Food processors in other segments of the industry have found that an important element in improving the effectiveness of sanitation is to use redundant processing controls. Examples of redundant controls observed at some firms inspected include:
- duplicate culling steps at harvesting, receiving, and just prior to processing;
- washing and brushing steps both at receipt and at processing;
- use of sanitizer dips and sprays in addition to washing and brushing; and
- use of approved and effective preservatives to reduce the levels of microorganisms in the finished product.
The FDA inspection findings indicate that these types of redundant processing controls are largely absent in the cider industry.
Microbiological testing can play an important role in verifying the effectiveness of sanitary controls. Samples of apples collected prior to crushing and pressing can indicate whether the culling, washing, brushing, and sanitizing steps are effective. Swab samples taken in the processing area can evaluate the effectiveness of cleaning operations on food contact surfaces and the adequacy of employee hygienic practices. Samples of private water supplies can help monitor whether it is a safe and protected source. In many instances indicator organisms such as aerobic plate counts and total coliforms can be used for this type of microbial monitoring.
Management and Regulatory Strategies to Further Reduce Risks
The challenge of reducing the risks associated with fresh apple cider extends beyond improving the sanitary controls applied at the processing level. Additional scientific data are needed to better understand sources of contamination, their associated risks, and the effectiveness of various control measures to reduce the risks. The following program initiatives are directed at providing an enhanced risk management and regulatory foundation that will help improve the safety of juice.
- Surveillance --- A number of programs are being developed and implemented that will enhance and expand the "Active Foodborne Diseases Surveillance Program" managed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These programs include increasing the number of data collection sites, improving technology for the detection and enumeration of pathogens, and expanding the state's capacity to investigate outbreaks.
- Coordination --- Strategies are being implemented that will improve the containment of outbreaks through better federal, state, and local coordination of the evaluation and response to foodborne illnesses. This includes assisting states and local governments in developing the infrastructure to support illness surveillance programs.
- Inspection --- FDA is continuing to work with the states to focus increased attention on sanitary controls applied by the apple cider industry. State contracts and partnerships, and training in inspection techniques are methods that can be used to increase the effectiveness of the inspection program.
- Research --- Research is being conducted to improve rapid methods to detect low levels of pathogens, enhance the understanding of how pathogens become resistant to high acid conditions, and improve methods to decontaminate the surface of apples or eliminate pathogens from the finished product.
- Risk Assessment --- Research is being conducted to better understanding the risks associated with cider production. This includes understanding the dynamics of pathogens in the agricultural environment, the effects of agricultural practices and processing steps on levels of pathogens, and the relationship between the numbers of pathogens present in the finished product and the incidence of illness.
- HACCP --- FDA is developing a final HACCP regulation for juice and juice products in order to improve the control measures being applied by industry to eliminate, prevent, or reduce hazards to acceptable levels; and to establish a criterion for an acceptable level of reduction of pertinent pathogens.
- Education --- Programs are being initiated to educate high risk groups about how to avoid foodborne illness. This includes conducting further food safety awareness campaigns and using labeling on juice and other point-of-sale materials to convey risk prevention information.