California Woman Sues OJ Giant Tropicana Over Flavor Packs

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Citrus Industry Defends Juice-Making Process

The industry as a whole says that the methods generally are essential for keeping up with consumer demand for orange juice.

For the past 30 years, companies have used flavor packs to process what the FDA identifies as "pasteurized" orange juice. That includes top brands such as Tropicana, Minute Maid, Simply Orange and Florida Natural, among others.

After oranges are picked, they are shipped off to be processed. They are squeezed and pasteurized and, if they are not bound for frozen concentrate, are kept in aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen in a process called "deaeration," and kept in million-gallon tanks for up to a year.

Before packaging, the juice is jazzed up with an added flavor pack, gleaned from orange byproducts such as the peel and pulp, to compensate for the loss of taste and aroma during the heating process.

Different brands use different flavor packs to give their product its unique and always consistent taste.

Kristen Gunter, executive director of the Florida Citrus Processors Association, confirmed last month that juices are blended and stored and that flavor packs are added to pasteurized juice before shipping to stores.

Flavor packs are created from the volatile compounds that escape from the orange during the pasteurization step.

But, she said, "It's not made in a lab or made in a chemical process, but comes through the physical process of boiling and capturing the [orange essence]."

The pasteurization process not only makes the food safe, but stabilizes the juice, which separates in its fresh state. Adding the flavor packs ensures a consistent flavor.

"If consumers have the false impression that pasteurized orange juice is not heated or treated because they have a picture of an orange on the carton, then they are not informed," Gunter said.

The lawsuit also alleges that one of the chemicals found in flavor packs in the United States is ethyl butyrate, "further revealing that [the juice] is not pure and natural.

But Doug Kara, a spokesman for the FDA's food safety division, said the chemical is "generally recognized as safe as a food additive for flavoring."

Particularly egregious, alleges the lawsuit, is a video on the company's website, "Tropicana Orange Grove Tour," which shows pristine groves, but none of the processing.

"While Tropicana provides videos and images of its groves in Florida," the complaint says, "it has never advertised or shown pictures of massive orange juice tankers that carry millions of gallons of orange juice cargo in enormous cylindrical tanks, much less trumpeted its dependence upon them and their cargo."

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