Flavor the Holiday Season with Safe Apple Cider

AMES, Iowa — Apple cider is a favorite on holiday menus. Iowa State University food scientists stress safety when selecting and preparing cider this season. When selecting cider, go to your supermarket's refrigerator section because traditional cider should always be refrigerated. "Unlike clear apple juice, traditional cider will contain suspended apple solids and sometimes a small amount of sediment on the bottom," said Cheryll Reitmeier, ISU food scientist. "Apple cider should appear bright golden or rich brown." When preparing hot cider it's important to get it hot quickly and keep it close to the boiling point. "If it's kept only lukewarm, microorganisms have the chance to grow quickly since it's the temperature range they prefer," said Bonita Glatz, ISU food scientist. Glatz said most microorganisms are harmless. However, if there are pathogens present, the chance of contracting a foodborne illnesses lessens by bringing the cider to a boil and serving it hot. She said the safest way to serve apple cider is either cold or hot - not warm. When buying apple cider, pay attention to shelf life. The standard refrigeration period for unpasteurized cider is two weeks, or one week after it's opened. For pasteurized cider, it's four weeks or more. Preservatives will add approximately one week to shelf life. Pasteurization kills a number of organisms. Containers of unpasteurized cider can bulge during refrigeration, but that doesn't indicate a problem, said Glatz. Yeast commonly found in fruits and fruit juices consume sugar in the cider, causing a reaction that increases the pressure inside the container, she said. Some Iowa cider producers have an official "Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers" seal on their products. This means the producer has taken and passed the Iowa cider school put on by Iowa State, said Lester Wilson, ISU food scientist. "The seal indicates producers emphasize good manufacturing practices in their operations," he said. Reitmeier, Glatz, Wilson and other ISU researchers are searching for alternative ways of ensuring a safe apple cider to keep Iowa's apple tradition alive. "Apple and apple cider production are part of Iowa's rural heritage," said Glatz. "We'd like to maintain as great a diversity of agricultural production as possible, for social, economic and ecological reasons. Apple growing provides jobs in rural areas and allows farmers to become less dependent on one or two crops."