Q: What is the difference between pasteurized fruit juice and unpasteurized fruit juice, and is drinking unpasteurized a risk to my health?
— L.R., Columbus, Ohio

A: Pasteurization is the process in which the juice is heated to a high temperature for a short time to kill off any harmful bacteria on the fruit (or vegetables), similar to the way in which milk is pasteurized.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, most juice produced in the U.S. is pasteurized.

The issue of unpasteurized juice often arises in the autumn, when it is common for orchards to produce their own apple cider. Many do not pasteurize it before selling it. Other sources of unpasteurized juices include juice bars, farmers markets and health-food stores.

Unpasteurized juice and cider have been linked to outbreaks of foodborne illness. Drinking unpasteurized juice might be a risk to your health if it contains potentially harmful bacteria. How can you know? You certainly can’t tell by looking at your juice whether harmful microorganisms are lurking in it. If you have concerns, it is best to err on the side of caution and buy pasteurized juice.

Many people are able to recover from a foodborne illness due to the strength of their immune systems. Others, including children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, might become sick or even die from such bacteria.

By FDA rules, unpasteurized juice must contain a warning label notifying the consumer that it has not been pasteurized. If you aren’t sure, you can boil juice at home for a short time, then cool and chill it before drinking it.

When preparing juice at home, follow these guidelines from the FDA to ensure that your juice is as safe as it can be:
— 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 and 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.
— Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush even if you plan to peel the produce before juicing it. Brushing prevents the transfer of dirt and bacteria from the surface to the flesh when cutting.
— After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further remove bacteria that might be on the surface.

— Ask a food or cooking question by writing Ask Lisa at The Dispatch, 62 E. Broad St., P.O. Box 1289, Columbus, OH 43216; calling 614-461-5529; or sending email to labraham@dispatch.com, with “Ask Lisa” in the subject line. Include your name, address and phone number. (Initials are printed on request.)