What’s In Your Orange Juice?

Early this month, the FDA announced that shipments of Brazilian-sourced orange juice contain carbendazim, a fungicide that has been linked to infertility, testicular damage, and birth defects.

Carbendazim is not approved for use as a fungicide in the United States.  In 1996, a US Supreme Court awarded Donna and Juan Castillo $4 million after Donna was inadvertently sprayed with the fungicide while pregnant with their son, John. John was born with no discernable eyes.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that John’s severe birth defects were a direct result of Donna’s exposure to carbendazim.

Coca-Cola has admitted “its [brands] and its competitors’ brands” of orange juice have been contaminated with carbendazim — but refused to name specific brands.  Coca Cola is the owner of Simply Orange and Minute Maid; Tropicana and OceanSpray are owned by Coca-Cola’s competitor, PepsiCo.  The FDA has admitted that contaminated juice is currently on grocery store shelves in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said that carbendazim levels up to 80 parts per billion are not considered harmful.  However, the FDA has declined to state whether they will follow the EPA’s recommendations regarding safe levels of the fungicide.  “We are saying that if we find any juice that presents a safety hazard, we’ll take steps to remove it from the market,” FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey told USA Today. 

Carbendazim belongs to a class of fungicides that fight a fungus called eyespot.  Eyespot causes dark, round spots on fruit, making it unattractive to consumers.  Ironically, fungicides are considered the least effective solution to eyespot, since eyespot quickly becomes resistant.

Orange juice, whose popularity in the United States was influenced by our need to get Vitamin C to American soldiers serving overseas during World War II in a product with a long shelf life, has an interesting history.  Today, consumers are faced with many choices: concentrate, not-from concentrate, Vitamin D-fortified.

Here’s are some quick tips to purchasing healthy, natural orange juice:

1.  Buy 100% Florida Orange Juice.  In this case, the affected orange juice is from Brazilian groves.  Some would argue that the legal pesticides used in the United States are in some cases even worse than those that are illegal; however, in the case of orange juice, the United States has tighter regulations than Brazil.  Most orange juices sold in the United States are a blend of Floridian and Brazilian juices, so check the label to be sure you’re purchasing orange juice harvested only from American groves.

2. Skip Calcium & Vitamin D-Fortified: Increasing evidence shows that our bodies do not process added vitamin supplements in the same way that we process those vitamins when consuming the foods that naturally contain them.  If you are short on calcium and Vitamin D, eat foods rich in calcium (dairy products, broccoli, almonds, brazil nuts, and leafy greens) and take a 10 minute stroll outdoors (for your daily dose of Vitamin D).  In fact, supplemental calcium and Vitamin D from unnatural sources have no demonstrated benefit and could even be harmful.

3. Skip Not-From-Concentrate: Or don’t.  Whether you’re purchasing From Concentrate or Not-From Concentrate orange juice, your juice is heated, pasteurized, stripped of flavor, stored for up to a year in million gallon tanks, and then re-flavored with a cocktail of flavor-enhancing chemicals that the FDA does not require be listed as ingredients.  Some juices, such as Whole Food’s 365 brand, buck this trend and do not allow the use of “flavor packs,” which are standard in the orange juice industry.  On the other hand, orange juice from concentrate undergoes this process and is stripped of its water content, which is re-added before packaging.  Concentrating the orange juice is one small step among many — and the least concerning from a health standpoint.  If you prefer the taste, go ahead and buy not-from-concentrate.  If you don’t have a preference, save yourself the extra dollar.

5. Eat an orange instead: Avoid the empty sugar rush of fruit juice by treating yourself to the fruit itself.  The fiber in an orange helps slow down your body’s processing of fructose, which is less jarring for your body and mind.  Drink a tall glass of water and eat an orange.  Compared with juice, the whole fruit always has fewer calories, less sugar, and more fiber.

5. Buy Fresh-Squeezed or Organic: If you can afford it, buy fresh-squeezed or organic orange juice.  The pasteurization process strips orange juice of its flavor, which is why chemical flavor packs are used to compensate.  Fresh-squeezed orange juice bypasses this problem altogether.

Orange you glad you read this post?

Update 1/18: Since I do my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, I have sent a Product Information Request to Trader Joe’s, asking whether their orange juice has been affected by the contaminated shipments from Brazil. You can read Trader Joe’s response to me here. 

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3 thoughts on “What’s In Your Orange Juice?”

  1. Valerie!

    Kudos on such an AMAZING blog! You are such a talented writer and so knowledgable about health. I can’t wait to see what you write about next.

    Nicole

    PS: Not only is fresh squeezed orange juice better for you, I also think it tastes better! Thanks for the awesome tips on buying orange juice.

  2. Folks should be more concerned what’s coming in their grape juice.

    There is a better chance of winning the lottery than detecting significant residue levels of carbendazim in their OJ.

    “The FDA will not be stopping apples, bananas and apricots due to the presence of 1000s more times (in concentration) of the same pesticide chemical simply because EPA has established those high tolerances. Of course, if FDA were worried about the safety of MBC, it would also have to stop grape juice (with an EPA tolerance of 5.0 ppm) and cherry juice (the heavy-hitter, with an EPA tolerance at a monstrous 20 ppm). Grape juice is used as the base juice for most fruit juices sold in the U.S.A. – and it has a tolerance for TPM, which is measured by testing for, you guessed it, carbendazim.”

    It’s no coincidence that Coca Cola reported the detection of the chemical and it’s products and that of it’s competitors just days before the ICE exchange expanded the monetary cap for which concentrated orange juice can be traded as a commodity. It’s no coincidence that the detection came right at the most volatile time of the year for FCOJ pricing (Winter).

    This isn’t about health risk, which in my opinion, there is none. It’s about a over-reaction in the marketplace to fuel industry competition with Coke (Simply/Minute Maid) and Pepsi (Tropicana), while squeezing out smaller competitors to gain market share. It’s about politics and the all might dollar.

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