FDA Slaps Warning On Apple Cider

Hoping to stem outbreaks of E. coli-related illnesses, the Food and Drug Administration began a campaign this year to warn consumers about the potential dangers of drinking unpasteurized apple cider. CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports.

Although most people know about the hazards of bacteria in uncooked meat, many are unfamiliar with the health risk presented by fresh juices. Unless juice is pasteurized -- the process which kills any bacteria that may be present -- even a glass of cider fresh from the mill can threaten a person's health.

The new FDA regulation comes as a surprise to many Americans who enjoy the harvest season by going apple-picking and drinking apple cider.

In western New Jersey, the Melick family has been in the apple business for eight generations.
This year, the Melicks, like other farmers, have been required by the government to post a notice telling customers that their unpasteurized cider "may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems."

Apple farmer Peter Melick thinks the warning is governmment overkill.

"I never thought I'd live to see the day when the warning label on cider would have a harsher warning than cigarettes did," he says.

Nevertheless, the sign doesn't deter some customers.

"My husband has been bringing me cider since before we were married, and we were married 57 years ago!" says 84-year-old cider fan Pauline Foster.

The state of New Jersey told CBS News that they have never had any incidents of serious illness from E. coli in cider.

While their cider is not pasteurized, the Melicks say that they do take safety precautions.

All of the apples used for cider are picked off the tree, they say -- never collected from the ground. Also, their apples are given a chlorine wash before they're pressed and made into juice. That should reduce the chance of transmitting E. coli.

The risks from drinking unpasteurized cider are very small, and only two percent of all juices in the U.S. have not undergone this process.

However, the FDA stresses the importance of checking that cider is pasteurized for seniors, children, and those with weakened immune systems. One particularly dangerous strain of E. coli has been known to be deadly to children, which is why the government is being particularly vigilant.

Reported by Dr. Emily Senay