The FDA is currently testing orange juice imports after the recent discovery of the fungicide carbendazim, banned in the United States. Carbendazim is known to cause liver cancer in animal studies, can be toxic to cell division, which can harm male fertility, and can cause birth defects.
Note: FDA tests on imports, so far, have not found the fungicide at levels that warrant a recall of product on shelves or for the import to be turned back at the border. To read a statement from the FDA, click here.
Here, the Juice Products Association responds to our questions on these events and orange juice manufacturing standards.
1. Are American juice companies required to test for carbendazim?
Companies selling foods and beverages in interstate commerce must comply with US laws and regulations. Some of our members rely on government testing while others have more extensive programs. It’s important to note that it was one of our members that discovered the substance and notified the FDA, even though, as the FDA has said, at the low levels found, there are no safety concerns with the Brazilian orange juice our members use in their products.
2. Are American juice companies required to report their test results for carbendazim to FDA?
Yes. Companies selling foods and beverages in interstate commerce must comply with US laws and regulations.
3. Are there other fungicides used in other countries that are not used here that could turn up in imported juice products? (If so, which fungicides?)
As there is no international standard, it is possible that there are others. That’s why juice producers test. Most countries outside the US use the international tolerances set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission established by World Health Organization and Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. In fact, the tolerance for carbendazim in orange juice under Codex is significantly higher than the levels found in Brazilian orange juice, as is the tolerance set by the European Union, Canada and Japan.
4. Even though the levels reported thus far are very low, why do business with countries that use chemicals we don’t use or allow here?
Safe, properly applied agricultural chemicals enable growers to produce enough safe and affordable fruits and vegetables to feed a growing population and make a living. In this case, it’s important to note that one of the fungicides of which carbendazim is a breakdown product (Thiophanate-methyl) is currently allowed for use on a number of food crops in the US. And while it is not registered for use on oranges, the federal government (EPA) for several years (ending in 2009) granted a tolerance to growers in Florida and Louisiana to use Thiophanate-methyl on oranges. After this period, the manufacturer chose not to re-register the fungicide for use on oranges with the EPA for economic reasons. (The tolerance level for carbendazim then was about six times higher than the highest level found in Brazilian orange juice.)
5. How do juice companies ensure that crops grown with this fungicide overseas are not used for juice bound for the US?
Our member companies take many steps, including their own testing, as well as government testing, to ensure the safety, quality and regulatory compliance of their products.
6. On a bottle of Minute Maid orange juice, the label says it is made with orange juice from Brazil, Costa Rica and the USA. Does Costa Rica use carbendazim on its orange crops?
We’re not aware of any testing by industry or government that has shown its presence in juice from Costa Rica.
7. Can you explain the orange juice process? How are oranges from Brazil used in American orange juice?
- To make orange juice from concentrate, oranges are washed and squeezed to remove the juice. Seeds and particles are strained out. Water is removed to make a juice concentrate. It is then held at frozen temperatures to maintain the quality. Since oranges are seasonal, the practice of juice concentration followed by frozen storage of the concentrate allows us to produce juice for year-round consumption. It also saves storage space, transportation costs and energy consumption since the concentrate has less volume than the juice. Flavor oils and aromas are captured when the water is removed and then added back at the same amount they were extracted. All of the flavors come from the orange. When it’s time to package the juice, water is added back and the juice is pasteurized, chilled and delivered to store shelves.
- To make not-from-concentrate orange juice, oranges are washed and squeezed to remove the juice. Seeds and particles are strained out. The juice is pasteurized and stored at a temperature just above freezing until it is packaged.
- Juice from Brazil is prepared in the same way. Because of the different harvesting seasons, orange juice from Brazil is used to provide consumers a consistent taste year-round.
- Throughout these processes, juice producers follow a federal standardized safety process known as Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP), which our industry advocated and helped develop in the late 1990s.
8. Do juice companies use flavor packs – flavoring and fragrance used to make the taste and color consistent year-round – for each unique brand? (Oils and essence are extracted from the orange peel – where the fungicide accumulates – to make these flavor packs.)
One-hundred-percent range juice is 100% pure, 100% natural and contains nothing that’s not found in the orange itself. Any flavor oils and essences producers use come right from the oranges themselves.
9. Are flavor packs made from oranges grown in Brazil?
If you look at the label of a container of orange juice, it will tell you where the juice inside came from.