How to select Juics and soft drinks

We all are wary of adulterated and contaminated Diwali mithai that their make way into shops. So with the ‘sweet’ old mithai under scanner, more people are opting for gifting beverages in Diwali gift hampers along with dry fruits, snacks and chocolates.
There is a vast variety of branded juices and soft drink options available in the market, which includes fruit juices, fruit drinks, milk-based drinks, carbonated drinks, water and soda-based drinks and nectars. Here are some tips that will help you select fruit juices and beverages that are healthy and safe to consume.

Fruit juices vs. Fruit drinks

In India, many sweetened drinks are marketed on a large scale, but out of these, some of them are erroneously labeled ‘fruit juice’. The truth is that many of these drinks have only a small percentage of fruit content, and some others contain only fruit flavours. So they should actually be called fruit drinks, fruit beverages, fruit nectars or flavoured drinks, and not fruit juices. Here are some facts you should be aware of:

1) Fruit drinks have 5-10 percent fruit content, which could be pulp or juice and could contain added flavour, colour, preservative, sugar and water.

2) Carbonated fruit drinks are like fruit drinks, which also contain 5-10 percent of fruit content but with soda.

3) Fruit nectars have 20 percent fruit juice content.

4) Fruit juices, on the other hand, are composed of hundred percent fruit content, but could either contain added sugar of up to 5 percent or could have no added sugar.

5) Fresh juice means that it does not contain any additives, flavours or juices that have undergone a concentration process. Fresh juices may will not be pasteurised, stored frozen or contain frozen juice, and have a short shelf-life.

6) Some juices like kiwi, lemon, lime, blackcurrant or other sour juices, generally do not have 100 percent juice, are diluted with water and could contain added sugar of up to 20 percent so as to give a desired taste which will appeal to consumers.

Most fruit drinks contain added sugar, but 100 percent fruit juices must contain only natural sugar. “When selecting the right drink, the best is 100 percent fruit juice without added sugar, followed by a fruit drink with low sugar content and high quantity of fruit content, and only then the fruit drinks – lime and lemon with at least 5 percent fruit content and others which would have atleast 10 percent fruit content. Last in the order are flavoured drinks as they contain no fruit content but only fruit flavours. Avoid these as all they will do is quench your thirst, and will only give you sugar and water,” says Dr PK Vats, Food Safety Expert and Vice-President at Auriga Research.

Are your fruit juices and drinks free of contaminants?
Most consumers are unaware of the kind of contaminants that can enter juices from agricultural practices, during handling, processing, storage and transportation. The truth is that contaminants can enter fruits, if good manufacturing. hygiene and sanitation practices are not maintained all along the food chain from farm to consumer.

Microbial contamination in juices
Fruits have a short shelf life and harmful pathogens from contaminated fresh fruit can enter fruit juices at any time during handling, preparation and processing. Salmonella typhi, the pathogen that causes typhoid, can reach apple and orange juices through cross-contamination and poor sanitation practices. Salmonella, Escherichia Coli and Cryptosporidium may cause outbreaks of gastroenteritis, if juices are not pasteurised. Moreover, improperly packaged fruit juices and soft drinks encourage the growth of fungi and moulds. Juice manufacturers normally pasteurise juices with a quick high-heat treatment so they are free from pathogens, yeast and moulds, which extends the shelf life to between 9-12 months depending on the packaging. So buying pasteurised juices will help prevent food borne illnesses. These days some juices are cold-pressed and these need to be stored with prescribed temperature controls or they will get contaminated. Never buy cold-pressed juices that are in the open unless they are from freezers and chillers.

Chemical contamination
Fresh fruits are susceptible to chemical contamination as insecticides are sprayed on them to prevent pest infusion. Aldrin, DDT, Dicofol, Malathion, Pyrethrinsare are some of the many pesticides that could be present in juices. Tomato juice is particularly susceptible to lead contamination, while orange, grape, tomato, pineapple and lemon must be tested for copper, arsenic and tin. Apple juice and apple juice ingredients used in other beverages could contain patulin, which occurs because of mould growth. Exposure to excessive chemical contaminants can lead to some serious health issues and so Food Regulator FSSAI has fixed the maximum limits for chemical contaminants. Consumers must therefore buy fruit juices and other soft drinks only from FBOs who are licensed, as they must follow food safety guidelines. Licensed FBOs carry out regular testing of products, so chemical contaminants are within regulatory limits.

Food colours and preservatives
Most natural juices do not contain artificial colours. However, carbonated drinks, fruit drinks and fruit beverages could contain permitted colours, which are indicated on the labels. FSSAI has permitted the use of artificial colours like Canthaxanthin, Annatto, Ponceau 4R. Carmoisine, Erythrosine, Tartarzine, Sunset Yellow FCF, Indigo Carmine, Brilliant blue FCF and Fast green FCF. FSSAI has also permitted the use of preservatives called sulphites like sulphuric dioxide, Benzoites like benzoic acid and sorbates like sorbic acid in carbonated and other soft drinks. Since these artificial colours and preservatives are chemicals, they can cause health problems when used in excess. Consumers must buy fruit juices and soft drinks only from licensed FBOs as they must follow the regulatory guidelines using only permitted colours and preservatives within specified limits and their use will be mentioned on labels.

What to check for on the labels
A look at the list of ingredients and nutritional facts will give a true picture about the fruit content, quantity of sugar and other substances and additives used in the drinks like colours, preservatives and flavours.

List of ingredients: The ingredients are always mentioned in the descending order of their composition by weight or volume. There could be additives to the fruit juice like water, sugar, salt, herbs and other permitted additives.

Fruit juice or drink: Check the name of the juice and whether it is a 100 percent fruit juice or fruit drink, as the fruit drink will only contain a percentage of fruit and the rest could be water or soda.

Nutritional Information for the percentage of sugar: Juices labelled beverage, drink, or cocktail often contain added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup. Fruits naturally contain sugar, so for 100 percent juices, the sugar listed on the label should be shown as carbohydrate but not added sugar. If sugar content is more than 1.5 percent then the word ‘sweetened’ has to be mentioned on the label.

Other information: Also look for the manufacturing/packaging date, ‘Best Before’ date, net quantity and check whether the drink is listed as vegetarian or not. You must also read up on the name and address of the manufacturer/packer along with the FSSAI logo and license numbers

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