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Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 4, 2006

We dealt here with the FDA’s decision to warn consumers not to drink Bolthouse Farms carrot juice, 450 ml and 1 liter plastic bottles, with “BEST IF USED BY” dates of Nov 11, 2006, or earlier due to botulism concerns.

As if Earthbound Farms wasn’t in the news enough lately, its brand is included in the voluntary recall announced by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of Bakersfield, CA:

100% Carrot Juice is distributed to all 50 states, Mexico & Canada through retail stores and is labeled as follows:

“Bolthouse Farms 100% Carrot Juice”, sold in both 1 liter and 450 milliliter sizes “Earthbound Farm Organic Carrot Juice”, sold in both 1 liter and 450 milliliter sizes “President’s Choice Organics 100% Pure Carrot Juice” sold in both 1 liter and 450 milliliter sizes.

The press release is interesting because it basically claims that there is nothing wrong with the juice that is being recalled. The problem is just consumers who don’t follow instructions:

As a precautionary measure, following incidents involving two bottles of temperature abused 100% Carrot Juice, Wm. Bolthouse Farms of Bakersfield, CA, is recalling 100% Carrot Juice. Carrot juice has the potential, if left un-refrigerated, to develop botulism, an illness which can be life-threatening. Proper refrigeration is generally achieved at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

All Bolthouse Farms processing facilities have been examined closely by internal auditors and the FDA, and have been found to be in compliance will all appropriate controlling regulations. In addition, samples from suspect lots have been examined by the FDA, and all samples have been found to be toxin free. These results clearly indicate a likely link between consumer temperature abuse and the development of botulinum toxin.

But there is some disagreement among experts as to what “proper refrigeration” is on carrot juice. Bolthouse claims that, as indicated above, “proper refrigeration is generally achieved at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Perhaps. However, Lou Cooperhouse, director of Rutgers Food Innovation Center, thinks another standard is more appropriate:

I was reading your news about the latest outbreak with botulism in carrot juice. Clostridium botulinum, which is the organism that causes this, is a common soil bacterium that produces heat-resistant spores. This organism produces a potent neurotoxin that may cause paralysis and possible death. Vegetables, like carrots, can carry heat-resistant Type A, B, and F Clostridium botulinum spores, and are a major concern in low-acid canned foods. In fact, UC Davis has a case history about a woman who contracted botulism from home canning, and this can be found at

Because botulism spores can survive pasteurization temperatures, a pasteurized carrot juice product will actually kill the “competition” to this heat-resistant organism and give it a greater opportunity to grow, especially if under warm conditions and for a prolonged period of time. In products like this, if there is adequate acidity (pH of 4.6 or less), and adequate refrigeration, then botulism should not be a problem. But since this carrot juice is probably a low acid product, and since it was not stored under proper refrigerated conditions, then botulism can in fact occur. The use of “barrier technologies” that include natural or synthetic preservatives could have prevented this situation, accompanied by the use of big bold letters that indicate “KEEP REFRIGERATED AT OR BELOW 35 degrees F”

The difference between the 45 degrees Fahrenheit that Bolthouse recommends and the 35 degrees Fahrenheit that Lou Cooperhouse suggests is not trivial. I asked Lou what temperature consumer refrigerators are typically kept at — since Lou wrote an important study, Prepared Refrigerated Foods: The Markets and Technologies, a few years back, and he is an expert on all this:

Audits International did the last study on home refrigerator temperatures back in 1999, which has great info on the amount of refrigerated retail cases above 45F in the deli, dairy, meat, seafood departments and so on. Here is the link, and you can scroll up and down:

You’ll also see that the avg. refrigerator temp was 39.2F, which is a lot better temperature than exists in retail display cases.

Note that 39.22 degrees Fahrenheit is significantly above 35 degrees. Even worse, although Lou’s data doesn’t cover produce cases, let me pull out the data for the percentage of cases in each department over 41 degrees and over 45 degrees Fahrenheit:

Now it is true that these are not produce department numbers where the Bolthouse beverages are usually sold, but I wouldn’t bet that produce does any better.

On either set of numbers, it is very possible that part of the problem is happening at store level. Add in some time in a hot car trunk and even if the consumer handled the product perfectly, we may be asking for trouble.

Bolthouse may realize this as it also announced:

Bolthouse Farms remains actively concerned about the health of its consumers, and the proper handling of its products. In light of recent concerns regarding potential risk associated with consumer mishandling of carrot juice, Bolthouse will immediately undertake the industry leading step of modifying its processing to mitigate the potential risk associated with consumer temperature abuse of carrot juice.

I don’t know how — but juice is the hottest category in produce right now, so let us hope it works.

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