Juicing is healthy, but easily contaminated by pathogens
So many fruits. So many veggies. So little time.
That’s the dilemma that people who want to eat as healthy as possible face. After all, who really has the time to eat the recommended 5 to 9 servings of fruits or vegetables — 2 1/2 cups of veggies and two cups of fruit — each and every day. Even nutrition experts agree that eating that many servings each day can be a challenge.
“Quite a leap from the typical American diet, which includes a mere cup and a half of veggies and one cup of fruit per day,” says USDA.
That’s where juicing comes into the picture. Juicing advocates say it’s a great way to toss some fresh fruits and veggies into a juicer, and voila — a concentrated version of the nutrients, all in a glass of what hopefully is a delicious concoction.
Or as Kris Carr, New York Times
best-selling author and wellness advocate, puts it: “By removing the fiber, all of the nutrients in the plant’s juice — vitamins, minerals, enzymes — instantly flood our bodies with goodness.”
And she points out that even those with the heartiest of appetites would find it challenging to consume the same amount of raw vegetables and fruits with a fork.
But just as beneficial as getting a good wallop of nutrition from juice may be, equally important is making sure that the juice is safe to drink — that it doesn’t contain dangerous foodborne pathogens such as Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella.
“The popularity of home-juicing is definitely riding a new wave, and ensuring safe kitchen practices has never been so important,” warns food safety expert Trevor Suslow, University of California-Davis.
Suslow said a key reason for the importance of following good food safety practices is that consumption of fruits and vegetables has increased among individuals who are highly susceptible to foodborne pathogens. This would include toddlers, pregnant women and elderly people, all of whom are more at risk of infection from consuming low-per-serving doses of pathogens than young healthy adults.
Or as the JustJuice blog would put it, “Just as juicing allows you to take in a concentrated dose of nutrients from more fruits and veggies than you can eat — it can also allow you to take in more of your fair share of the ‘bad stuff.’ ”
“The first step in juicing for health actually doesn’t have to do with juicing at all,” says JustJuice. “It has to do with making sure your produce is clean and free of bacteria, pesticides and dirt.”
According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fruits and vegetables contaminated with harmful bacteria cause 46 percent of food poisonings. However, the agency also points out that much of this contamination comes from the way the produce is handled, which includes packing, storing and preparing it — not from the produce itself.
Food safety tips for juicers
The Food and Drug Administration warns that when fruits and vegetables are fresh-squeezed or used raw, bacteria on the outside of the produce can end up in your juice or cider. With that in mind, it offers these tips when making juice at home:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Throw away any produce that looks rotten.
- Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before cutting or cooking, including produce grown at home or bought from a grocery store or farmers market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash is not recommended.
- Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush under running water. Even if you plan to peel the produce before juicing it, wash it under running water first so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting into it.
- After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.
A tip from JustJuice recommends giving leafy greens a bath. Fill up a thoroughly cleaned basin with cold water and pour in a half a cup of vinegar. Soak the greens in the mixture for 5 to 10 minutes, swirling them around to loosen dirt and insects caught in the leaves. Then put the greens in a colander and rinse under cold water. Make sure the water hits every part of the leaf.
The FDA says that leafy greens are vulnerable to contamination because they are often eaten raw. They must be kept at 40 degrees or cooler to inhibit pathogen growth.
Suslow, meanwhile, warns against putting produce items in a sink to wash them and also against batch washing garden produce because that increases the chance of contamination or cross-contamination.
It’s not necessary to peel vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots and beets, but some people prefer to remove the skin of these vegetables if they’re not organic. In fact, peels often contain more nutrients than the veggies, themselves.
Food-safety experts advise that if you do peel such vegetables, make sure you’ve cleaned them first and also cleaned the utensil you’ll be using to peel them with. You don’t want to introduce bacteria that might be on the surface of the veggie or fruit or on the peeler into the produce, itself.
As for fruits such as cantaloupe, their skins are too tough for a juicer. And citrus fruit peels can be too acidic for many people’s systems.
When it comes to cruciferous vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts — things get trickier because bacteria and dirt can be lurking in the tight florets. For this reason, it’s best to blanch these veggies by dunking them in boiling water for about 10 seconds.
Suslow said that the impact of blanching on the availability of nutrients is variable, but largely minor, and some of the nutrients actually become more bioavailable — easier for the system to absorb — with blanching.
It’s best to wash delicate, soft fruits immediately before juicing, eating or blending. Absent a professional grade fruit and veggie washer, place soft fruits like berries in a colander and then soak them in fresh water to remove some of the dirt and pesticides. Dump the water and repeat the process with fresh water two or three times.
Not so much
As for what fruits aren’t good for juicing, JustJuice lists strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and mangos. That’s because they make more of a slurry than a juice. They are good for slushies and smoothies, though.
Cherie Calborn, also known as the Juice Lady, offers these tips about what not to use for juicing:
- Don’t juice carrot tops. They are toxic.
- Don’t juice the peel of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and tangelos. They have volatile oils that can cause stomach upset. Lemon and lime peel is fine.
- Don’t juice rhubarb leaves; they are toxic. The stalks are fine to juice.
- If you’re on warfarin or other blood-thinning medications, avoid high amounts of parsley juice.
- If you’re prone to kidney stones, go light on oxalate-rich juices such as spinach, rhubarb, beets, okra and Swiss chard.
She also advises at-home juicers to store all fresh fruits and vegetables such as berries, grapes, lettuce and other leafy greens, herbs, and mushrooms in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below. In addition, all produce that has been pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated.
As for rinsing produce with solutions that contain vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, bleach — or even commercial produce rinses — Suslow said that while they help prevent cross-contamination, when done correctly, they aren’t 100 percent effective.
Some juicers say that considering the work it takes to make juice, you wouldn’t want to make just one glass at a time, which is why storing some of it makes sense to them. But Suslow said it depends a lot on what ingredients are being used.
“I would be hesitant to store it for more than a few hours under refrigeration, mostly for quality reasons,” he said. As for storing juice overnight, he said there can be too many negative enzymatic reactions among the different ingredients.
Juicing vs. blending
Wellness advocate Carr says she gets asked this question a lot. To begin with, she says, juicing extracts the liquid from the fruits and vegetables, leaving the fiber behind.
Blending is different. The ingredients are “whirled and pureed” together, producing smoothies that contain fiber, “providing the benefits of fruits and veggies along with their heart-healthy, gut-friendly fiber.”
She said that people who are watching their blood sugar levels sometimes opt for blending because the fiber helps ensure a slow and steady absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
And she also points out that blended smoothies have another important advantage: They can help you feel fuller longer.
“The bottomline,” she said, “is that both juicing and blending are wonderful and efficient ways to maximize your consumption of the good stuff: greens, vegetables, fruits and superfoods. One has fiber, the other doesn’t. One allows for maximal nutrient intake in one sitting, while the other allows you to incorporate a wide range of ingredients and take advantage of fiber, protein and healthy fats.”
According to the USDA, Americans ages 2 to 30 get more than 50 percent of their fruit from juice. And while juice can be a source of nutrients, the agency points out that it lacks dietary fiber and contributes excess calories and sugar.
“Focus on getting your daily two cups of fruit from mostly whole fruits and include 100 percent fruit juice in your diet sparingly,” advises the agency.
When and how
JustJuice advises juicers to drink their juice on an empty stomach. “If you’ve eaten a bunch of food first, the juice gets stuck in traffic behind the harder-to-digest stuff and can cause discomfort.”
When it comes to buying a produce washer or a juicer, the prevailing advice is to make sure it can be cleaned and sanitized. That means it comes apart easily so there is no place for residue to build up.
JustJuice offers information on a number of different types of juicers
Organic vs. conventional
While many juicers recommend using only organic fruits and vegetables for juicing and blending, others say that the nutritional benefits of eating or drinking fresh fruits and vegetables, whether they’re organic or not, are far better than not eating or drinking any at all. Or as some would say, some fresh produce, or juice, is better than none at all.
For those who are worried about pesticide residues on produce, the Environmental Working Group annually boils down data from the federal government and publishes a list of the 12 produce items with the most pesticide residues and another list of the 15 produce items that have the least residues. The residues are within legal limits, but the EWG contends even very small amounts are problematic.
Government data showed the produce commodities with the highest pesticide residues in 2016 were: strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.
The 15 fresh produce commodities with the lowest pesticide residues in 2016 were: avocados, corn, pineapples, cabbage, sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, honeydew, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower.
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