What Comes Naturally: Contaminated Apple Juice and Opposition to Pasteurization

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It's only natural for consumers to assume that "natural" food products are the most wholesome, but this is often not true. Case in point: Unpasteurized apple juice made by Odwalla, Inc., recently caused an outbreak of about 65 cases of poisoning from the bacterium E. coli O157:H7 in several Western states (29 of which cases the Centers for Disease Control confirmed, according to a Reuter report). E. coli O157:H7 is the virulent strain that in 1993 contaminated hamburgers at "Jack in the Box" restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, killed three children, and made 600 people ill. Odwalla has voluntarily recalled all of its unpasteurized products that contain apple juice.

Among those who drank the contaminated Odwalla juice was a 16-month-old girl, who died as a result, and a 2 1/2-year-old boy, who was hospitalized with kidney failure. The boy's parents told The New York Times that they had been unaware of the risks of unpasteurized juice not surprising, since the contaminated juice products lacked a warning label.

On the other hand, the so-called health food industry has persuaded many consumers that unpasteurized juice is more nutritious and healthful than pasteurized juice. One customer told the Times: "Odwalla makes me feel like I'm drinking a glass of vitamins." According to the paper, Odwalla officials claim that processing juices with heat causes a loss not only of 30 percent of their nutrients, but also of enzymes that help one absorb the nutrients.

However, the assertion that food enzymes facilitate absorption of nutrients is nonsense. We digest the enzymes in foods (as we do other proteins) and then absorb them as amino acids. And, since apple juice is naturally low in nutrients (and hardly America's staple food), any decrease in its nutritional value due to pasteurization would be inconsequential.

Consider that, while 30 percent of the vitamin C in orange juice may be lost with pasteurization, the amount of vitamin C in just eight ounces of pasteurized orange juice easily exceeds the Recommended Dietary Allowance.

Similarly, high-temperature, short-time pasteurization reduces the vitamin C and thiamine (vitamin B1) in milk by ten percent; but milk is naturally low in vitamin C, and many other foods provide these vitamins in significant amounts. And, contrary to what some "natural food" enthusiasts say, pasteurization cannot destroy minerals or diminish calcium's usability.

The Opposition

Misinformation about pasteurization remains widespread more than 80 years after demonstration of its effectiveness and more than 50 years after the publication of a comprehensive review concluding that pasteurization inactivates disease-causing microbes without adverse effects on health or nutrition.

Those who criticize pasteurization can be persuasive to unsuspecting consumers, particular when they invoke scientific studies. One can always find a study to defend a position, but responsible scientists and health professionals don't pick and choose studies for this purpose. Rather, they strive for objectivity, considering only quality evidence and only in its entirety.

On the other hand, critics of pasteurization, including the following, have been less rigorous.

* In 1945 Weston Price, D.D.S., set forth his stand against pasteurized milk, white flour, and other aspects of modern eating in his "magnum opus," Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Price blamed the modern diet for "race decay." He described tooth decay as a "tragic expression of our modern degeneration" which, he said, included "general physical degeneration, and facial and dental arch deformities, and character changes." His emotional theories continue to inspire pseudoscientific dentists.

* In 1946 Frances Pottenger, Jr., M.D., authored a study that is a favorite of opponents of pasteurization. Dr. Pottenger caught stray cats and put them in one of two cages in his backyard. The cats were fed (a) cooked meat and pasteurized milk, or (b) raw meat and unpasteurized milk. According to Pottenger, the former diet decreased the cats' growth and fertility, increased birth defects, and even caused the genetic transmission of "acquired" (nongenetic) anatomical defects. His purported findings are to put it politely anomalous. The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, named after Dr. Pottenger and the aforementioned Weston Price, continues to advocate Pottenger's work.
* Royal Lee, D.D.S., was a vociferous opponent not only of pasteurization but also of community water fluoridation (see article on page XX) and cooking in aluminum pans. Lee owned and ran the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, which Dr. Pottenger credited for providing "valuable assistance" in the preparation of his study. In 1962 Lee and his Vitamin Products Company were convicted of misbranding 115 special dietary products by making false claims for the treatment of more than 500 diseases and conditions. Lee received a one-year suspended prison term and was fined $7,000. The following year, a prominent FDA official described Lee as "probably the largest publisher of unreliable and false nutritional information in the world."
* Paavo Airola, a self-proclaimed naturopath and the author of fourteen books and booklets, advocated drinking "raw" (unpasteurized) skim milk as part of his dietary plan for treating jaundice, and "raw" goat's milk in the treatment of various other conditions. He claimed that pasteurized, supermarket milk is not suitable for human consumption. So-called health food stores continued to market his books, including Worldwide Secrets for Staying Young (1983), even after his fatal stroke in 1983. He was 64.

* Oregon pediatrician-author Lendon Smith, M.D., who was a popular guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, has suggested that homogenization and pasteurization of milk render its calcium unabsorbable. He has also claimed that drinking such milk can cause insomnia and muscle cramps. Dr. Smith voluntarily surrendered his Oregon medical license in 1987 instead of facing charges that he had authorized insurance payments for patients he hadn't seen.

* William Campbell Douglas, M.D., an adversary of water chlorination and fluoridation, is the author of The Milk of Human Kindness Is Not Pasteurized. At an informal FDA hearing in 1984, he testified: "For rapid, healthy growth in young children, there is no substitute for raw, certified milk. Pasteurized milk is dead milk, which will rot on standing."

* Also at that hearing was popular Los Angeles pediatrician Paul M. Fleiss, M.D., who testified: "Raw milk contains lipase, free fatty acids, which when absorbed help the body utilize fat better. This is why some allergies may be due to pasteurized milk." (Digestion breaks down the enzyme lipase, and pasteurization does not affect the absorption of free fatty acids.) According to The Los Angeles Times, hundreds of fans packed a federal courtroom in 1995 when Dr. Fleiss was fined and sentenced to probation and community service for conspiring to hide the profits from his daughter Heidi's call girl ring.

* In Fit for Life II: Living Health (1987) whose publisher claims over a million copies in print Harvey and Marilyn Diamond devoted eight pages to an attack on pasteurization. Here's a sample: "DEAD FOOD CANNOT SUPPORT LIFE. Pasteurization kills" (emphasis in the original). The Diamonds also stated: "Pasteurized milk is dangerous and destructive. It causes disease. It has not one redeeming quality."

* In Nutrition: The Cancer Answer II (1995), Maureen Kennedy Salaman asserted: "Pasteurized milk is good for corporate profits, bad for consumer health. Pasteurized milk can sit on your grocer's shelf without spoiling because it has had the life force removed from it." Salaman has been a frequent guest on Christian television programs. She was president for 12 years of the National Health Federation. NHF, cofounded by Royal Lee (see above), is a politically active alliance of defenders of dubious and discredited "healing" methods. Proponents of raw milk emphasize that the American Association of Medical Milk Commissions (AAMMC), organized in 1907, ensures that "certified raw milk" is safe. The AAMMC developed a sanitary standard for the production of raw milk. At one time certification may have helped to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis, which was eliminated from cow herds by 1941. Today, however, hygienic standards are similar throughout dairy operations in the United States. It is difficult and uneconomical to produce raw milk that does not contain the disease-causing bacteria salmonella and campylobacter. Outbreaks of serious, sometimes fatal illnesses in the previous two decades that have implicated certified raw milk, make clear the inadequacy of raw milk certification as a consumer-protection measure.

Truth in Labeling

For 35 years, Alta Dena Dairy advertised its unpasteurized products as nutritionally superior to their pasteurized counterparts as safe even for infants and invalids until a California judge, in 1989, ordered the company to stop making false and misleading claims. The judge required that for the next ten years every carton of raw milk bear this label:

Warning: This milk may contain dangerous bacteria. Those facing the highest risk of disease or death include babies, pregnant women, the elderly, alcoholics, those with cancer, AIDS, or reduced immunity and those taking cortisone, antibiotics or antacids. Questions regarding the use of raw certified milk should be directed to your physician.

The judge further required that the following notice accompany all raw-milk advertisements.

Warning: The FDA has determined (1) that there is no satisfactory scientific proof that pasteurization significantly reduces the nutritional value of milk and (2) that the risks associated with consuming raw certified milk outweigh any of its alleged health benefits.

These warnings came too late for Paul Telford, a victim of lung cancer who died of an infection caused by drinking Alta Dena Dairy Certified Raw Milk. In 1987 a Pomona (California) Superior Court jury found the dairy guilty and awarded $40,000 to Telford's family. (All Alta Dena milk has been pasteurized since the late 1980s, when the Stueve family sold the dairy. However, the Stueve family continued to distribute raw milk labeled "Stueve's Natural.")

By failing to provide adequate warning, Odwalla, Inc., may eventually find itself similarly liable for the harm linked to its apple juice products. Naturally, regulators are now inclined to require that unpasteurized juice bear a warning label. And naturally, many consumers who prefer the taste of unpasteurized juice, or who read books from health food stores, will ignore such a label.

William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., is Director of Public Health of the American Council on Science and Health.

(From Priorities Vol. 8, No. 4, 1996)