FDA: OJ Testing For Fungicide May Last 6 Months

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that orange juice testing—following recent discoveries of fungicide contamination—could continue for six more months.

PepsiCo recently announced that an unapproved fungicide was detected in its Tropicana orange juice, adding that the levels were below federal safety concerns. The fungicide scare followed a discovery by Coca-Cola Co., which makes Minute Maid orange juice, that its juice shipments from Brazil contained carbendazim. Coca-Cola advised the FDA about a potential problem in the industry when it detected low levels of carbendazim in its own and a competitors’ juice.

Last week, U.S. health regulators allowed the first shipments of imported orange juice to enter the country since the suspension on January 4. According to the FDA, its final tests confirmed that three samples of Canadian orange juice were free of carbendazim; results are pending on 28 import samples from Brazil, Mexico, and Canada.

The test results can take up to five days to confirm no carbendazim. Inconclusive results can take another seven days for additional testing, FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey, told Bloomberg News. Continued testing “might be for a month or six months,” DeLancey said. “It depends on what we find.”

“We will continue to test as we take this matter seriously, and we’re working aggressively to address any concerns,” said PepsiCo, wrote Bloomberg News. “We source a significant amount of our orange juice for the U.S. from Florida,” said Coca Cola spokesman, Petro Kacur, in an email to Bloomberg News. “We rigorously test all our ingredients using state of the art methods to ensure that they meet our safety and quality standards,” Kacur added.

Fungicides control fungi or fungal spores in agriculture, explained The Associated Press (AP) previously; however, carbendazim is not approved for use on United States citrus, but is used in Brazil, which exports orange juice to the U.S. Brazil exports about one-tenth of all U.S. orange juice.

The U.S. has not created a maximum residue level for the fungicide in oranges, said the AP; however the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 80 parts per billion (ppb) to be a health risk. Since the fungicide is not approved for use in the U.S., any detected amount is considered illegal. Bloomberg News explained that carbendazim has been linked to liver tumors in animals.

The scare has since prompted member states in the European Union to also review Brazil growers’ carbendazim use to decide if additional testing is called for there, wrote Bloomberg News. DeLancey said that the FDA will report test results each Friday. Imported juice with concentrations of carbendazim of 10 ppb or more will either be refused entry or destroyed, said DeLancey, who noted that testing is being conducted on domestic orange juice.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicates that Americans—the largest orange juice importer—consumed 1.2 million gallons of orange juice from the 2009-2010 growing season; it took in 190,000 metric tons in 2011, said Bloomberg. The European Union imported 800,000 tons in the same period. Most orange juice sold in the U.S. is a mix of domestic and imported orange juice, said the Juice Products Association.

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