SPENCER MICHELS: Odwalla, a California firm specializing in natural, fresh, unpasteurized juices, began recalling its products from store shelves in late October. That was after reports of illness among juice drinkers in Washington State. The culprit was found to be a bacteria called E. Coli-015787, a sometimes lethal organism, transmitted to humans through food contaminated by animal feces. The Food & Drug Administration found it in an unopened bottle of fresh apple juice. Odwalla's chairman, Greg Steltenpohl, reacted quickly.
GREG STELTENPOHL, Chairman, Odwalla: We feel at this time that it is very prudent to advise the entire industry that production of fresh apple juice is not prudent.
SPENCER MICHELS: Eventually, sixty people in seven western states and British Columbia became ill, including a two-year-old California girl, who suffered kidney failure. She now is much improved. But in Colorado, 16-month-old Anna Grimstead died of heart and lung failure caused by the E. Coli after drinking a Smoothie made with unpasteurized juice.
SPOKESMAN: We're just deeply, deeply sorry it happened.
SPENCER MICHELS: Odwalla, severely hurt by the recall, since 50 percent of its product contains apple juice, began flash pasteurizing the juice to get it back on the shelves. That's a process of quickly heating the liquid to kill bacteria and immediately cooling it. In normal pasteurization, the heating is longer and hotter. Most juices sold today are pasteurized, but the market for natural or untreated juice, promoted as healthier, has been booming. The unanswered questions in the Odwalla story, how the E. Coli bacteria got into the juice and whether that is likely to happen again, have produced a mixed and very uneven reaction among juice drinkers, producers, and sellers. At Country Fresh, a blender and bottler of unpasteurized juice in Sonoma, California, owner Jim Williams says some stores he sells to have refused deliveries of his product. He says the public and retailers have panicked.
JIM WILLIAMS, Juice Bottler: The public perception is that the whole apple juice industry may be unsafe. And some of the stores are not wanting to sell fresh apple juice because of the possibility that no one has really pinned down that there may be a problem.
SPENCER MICHELS: William says unpasteurized juice, which is often frozen to preserve it, tastes better and is more nutritious than pasteurized. He believes washing the fruit can prevent E. Coli contamination.
JIM WILLIAMS: Scrubbing the apples, using sanitized wash processes, just general sanitation. We have done some pasteurization in order to give the consumer the choice. They have the pasteurized or the unpasteurized. It's not something we want to do.
SPENCER MICHELS: According to Williams, it's especially important to wash apples that have fallen on the ground, where they could be contaminated by contact with animal feces. At Twin Hill Ranch, a popular apple farm open to the public, the fruit is washed before it's dipped in caramel sauce for candied apples and before Darolyn Davis, one of the owners, bakes her apple pies. They also sell unpasteurized juice here, which, even after the Odwalla scare, far outsells the pasteurized variety.
DAROLYN DAVIS, Apple Farm Owner: (Laughing) It doesn't scare me at all.
SPENCER MICHELS: Why not?
DAROLYN DAVIS: Well, I know that our apples are clean. And I know where our apples--our juice that's produced is clean, and so I don't worry about it. I think it's kind of a flukey kind of a thing.
SPENCER MICHELS: At a nearby juice stand, a new sign assures customers that the juice sold here is safe. The manager is a retired poultry and meat compliance officer for the Department of Agriculture, well aware of the dangers of E. Coli.
DOUG GADDIS, Juice Stand Manager: If it's pasteurized, we won't have that there problem. It kills the bacteria. I'd rather be safe than sorry. Pasteurization, you know, you have to have pasteurization.
DAROLYN DAVIS: I don't think it's a good idea to make it law. I think it's up to the person who's drinking it.
SPENCER MICHELS: Most of those involved in the apple juice business, including Odwalla, say they welcome the FDA meetings as necessary to try to find answers to some hard questions.
JIM LEHRER: Charlayne Hunter-Gault has more.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Just how serious is the problem of E. Coli in juice, and what, if anything, should be done? We hear from two participants at today's FDA hearing. Eric Chittenden owns the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Vermont. His company makes fresh apple cider and other food products. Caroline Smith Dewaal is director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. Thank you both for joining us. Ms. Smith, how big is the problem of E. Coli in juice?
CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL, Center for Science: This is a very serious problem. The bacteria involved is very hazardous. And it can even cause death in small children at very low doses. We've had two outbreaks just this fall, one in Connecticut and one in California, and in the western United States. And that indicates that this is a problem nationally. We hope that these outbreaks serve as a wake up call for the fresh juice industry and the FDA that they need tighter controls, microbial testing, and warning labels on their product.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Okay. I want to get to some of the specifics in a minute. But, first, I want to get to Mr. Chittenden, and see if your assessment of how serious the problem is squares with Ms. Smith Dewaal--I forgot the second part--with a hyphenated name I shouldn't do that. Go ahead, sir.
ERIC CHITTENDEN, Cold Hollow Cider Mill: After two days of hearings and discussion in this conference here in Washington, if you look at the whole industry, you look at the entire E. Coli problem, I would say that the problem in apple juice is relatively small. It truly is when you look at the number of cases that have erupted as a result of meat and poultry, the problem that was in raspberries this summer, the recent problem in Britain, where 12 people, I guess, died as a result of it. That isn't to say that those of us in the apple and apple juice industry aren't concerned about the public health. Most of us got into this particular line of profession because we like being around a healthy product, the image of the apple and fresh apple juices, and with that in mind, I think that the FDA has in each and every one of us that grows fruit and processes fruit a team member to maintain that image and certainly not only the image but the reality of a good, safe, healthy product.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So you're saying that Ms. Smith Dewaal and the people who are concerned about it are overly-concerned, or, in a word, what would you say their reaction is?
ERIC CHITTENDEN: I don't think we can be overly-concerned. I think Caroline brings a good point to the table in that any problem is a serious problem, and we have to take it very seriously. We also have to look at the reasonable risk with anything that we do, whether it's getting a flu shot and knowing that a certain number of people are going to die as a result of getting the flu shots, we still get them because the public benefit from that is greater than the public risk.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But, in effect, you're saying that this is overdrawn or overblown, the reaction?
ERIC CHITTENDEN: No, again, I really feel I share Caroline's concern about maintaining a healthy food chain and being a part of that. I would say that--and I think Caroline may agree with me--that it may be premature to require pasteurization. But the--in the end, if people who are consuming the product feel comfortable and know their processor, know that they're using, that the processor's using good, clean, perhaps even treated fruit, and has good practices, there's no reason to be concerned about a safe product.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Smith Dewaal, is he right, that perhaps this is limited to very few places, that basically the concern is just for certain things, certain--
CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL: We hope that the industry can take--heed this wake up call and address this problem quickly. There's been a lot of debate over the last two days about whether fresh juices, all juices should be pasteurized. And we're not sure that that's the right first step here. We'd like to see the industry take steps to put in place the highest possible standards for their product, using tree-picked fruit, making sure the fruit doesn't touch the ground, things like that, and making sure their plants are very--maintained at very sanitary levels.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because the fruit touching the ground, what is the problem there, that comes in contact with--
CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL: We're concerned that some of the apples involved in these outbreaks might have been in contact with either cow or deer manure and that that's where the bacteria came from. That's what one of our major concerns is. Some of the scientists at the meeting have said that it may be more widespread than that. It may be in water, irrigation, water, some other things, and they're calling for pasteurization of the products. But we'd like to see the industry really step up to the plate, address this problem, and give consumers the information they need to know to avoid hopefully more deaths or serious illnesses from the products.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Chittenden, do you have any objections to the things that she's put on the table--let's leave pasteurized aside for the moment--but the health things that she says needs to be done and the other steps?
ERIC CHITTENDEN: No. I think Caroline brings up some excellent points, that if we keep in mind there are just under a thousand fresh apple juice producers in the country and many of these are small producers, perhaps there's an opportunity for the industry and for the states to implement GMP's good manufacturing procedures in their states, and perhaps FDA should require that in HCCP programs, which are Hazardous Critical Control Point programs, and--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And you wouldn't have a problem with that?
ERIC CHITTENDEN: Oh, absolutely not. I think it's essential, and I think that anyone--it's important that we all are concerned about our food source and a good healthy food chain.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about labeling now, is this something you're calling on the FDA to propose?
CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL: We would like to see at least for the immediate future labels on fresh juice products that simply say it's unpasteurized and that it shouldn't be given to children, the elderly, or people with a suppressed immune condition.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. What do you think about that, Mr. Smith [Chittenden]?
ERIC CHITTENDEN: I guess I could go on record as categorically opposing that because such a label would imply--it would be like a warning label. And, again, if good manufacturing practices are in place and you're starting with good, clean fruit, there should be no reason to expect anything but a good end product.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: No reason to expect but a good end product?
CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL: Well, we don't know, we still don't know the source of the E. Coli bacteria in the Odwalla juice. They told us they had very high standards in place, so we want to make certain that consumers know about the risk, particularly to the elderly members of the family and even children. I mean, if you walked into a day care center today, you may find raw apple cider being served to those children. That's a real concern. And we need to let people know that they shouldn't be serving those products to the elderly or children in their family.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And you have a problem with that?
ERIC CHITTENDEN: Well, if I may, I think we need to broaden the discussion a little bit because we have here many juice producers, and if you look at, in a sense, many restaurants, most restaurants in the country, in a sense, are juice producers. They advertise fresh-pressed or squeezed orange juice. We have on the West Coast juice-arias popping up everywhere. And it's with the idea that these are fresh, healthy, wholesome juices, and when you start these things, like lettuce and dairies and so on that are literally on the ground, some of them very difficult to wash--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But the problem is with the juice, and you're saying that they should leave it up to the people who make the juice to--
ERIC CHITTENDEN: Well, no. That's probably part that's left out of the discussion is that the problem isn't necessarily the juice. It's actually on lettuce. In fact, in the Odwalla situation, the results aren't in yet. It hasn't been answered, and isn't, so lettuce was one of the things that came up in that situation.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Just very briefly, Ms. Smith Dewaal, what should consumers do in the meantime, just very briefly, before any rules are handed down?
CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL: If you want to serve your family cider this holiday season, just boil it first. You don't even need to boil it. Get it up to 160 degrees for a very short couple of seconds, and you'll probably be fine. So if you serve your cider mold this season, it should be good, and then let the industry really tackle this problem.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Thank you both for joining us.