By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Tropicana is the world’s leading producer of branded fruit juices. In all probability, this is because of its remarkable fresh, orangey taste. They get this taste through a unique and remarkable process—they actually squeeze oil out of the peel, centrifuge the oil to separate it from the surrounding water, and add some of the oil to the juice while maintaining careful quality control. Among the oils that are separated from the peels are essential oils, limonene oils, and orange oils. The juice is then flash-pasteurized and ultimately packaged in special containers that retain the flavor and protect the juice from oxygen, light, and moisture.
The plus side of adding the oil from the peel is the remarkable “freshly squeezed” taste found in the product. The downside, it seems, is that in the process of adding the oils of the peel, something else is also introduced into the juice.
One of the biggest problems facing citrus farmers throughout the world is the presence of scale bugs. Scale bugs affect both “eating oranges” and “juice oranges.” Traditionally, scale bugs have been controlled with such broad-spectrum insecticides as organophosphate and carbamate, but since the 1990s the scale bugs have developed immunity to many of the insecticides. Other insecticides are employed and rotated, however, which do succeed in limiting a large number of scale infestations.
Because of the presence of scale bugs, many of the leading “heimish” hechsherim have banned Tropicana orange juice. For a fascinating view of some of the scale bugs on oranges and lemons, see the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wCGfZkv88A. Warning: It is not for the faint of heart. It was produced by a non-Jew whose concern is not kashrus.
Why don’t the scale bugs come off in our hands after we peel an orange? In Israel, Rav Moshe Vaye, the leading halachic expert on bugs, writes that it is a serious problem and one may not peel an orange and then eat the fruit unless the scales have been removed or unless the one who peels it wears gloves while peeling and then removes them. It may be a little-known fact, but in the United States, this is not a problem with off-the-shelf oranges because the fruit is waxed and the scale bugs that remain after the intense high-pressure wash do not come off, on account of the wax.
Nearly 80 percent of the oranges grown in the United States come from Florida, and the Tropicana company works with over a dozen Florida groves. Generally speaking, pesticides are applied to the orange trees six to twelve times throughout the year. The summer spray, occurring in June or July, is the one that is targeted toward scales, although there may be additional spraying depending upon infestation levels.
Florida uses a three-tiered approach to combat infestations, combining natural biological defenses (“good bugs” that eat or otherwise kill the “bad bugs”), oil, and pesticides.
Most fruit in Florida is handpicked, and each worker can pick about 900 pounds of oranges per hour. They are placed in 90-pound boxes and are brought to the processing plant. About 90 percent of these fruits are intended for juice, while only 10 percent are destined for the fresh market. The oranges are placed on a conveyor belt and workers on both sides of the belt remove broken or decayed fruit before the first wash. If the fruits are destined for juice, there is no additional waxing or fungicide applied.
Florida oranges quite often have scales on the outer peel. There are two types of these bugs—the armored and the soft-scale variety. There are five varieties of armored scales—the purple scale, the citrus snow scale, the Florida red scale, the Glover’s scale, and the chaff scale. There are three types of soft scales that affect Florida oranges—the Caribbean black scale, the brown soft scale, and the Florida wax scale. While infestations may vary and are often controlled by other parasites that lay their eggs within the bodies of the scales, thus killing them, there are occasional outbreaks of citrus snow scale infestations that require further spraying.
Industry consultants explain that, in regard to the larger commercial producers, there are basically two types of machinery that extract juice from oranges. In the Brown system, the fruit goes through a bed of hundreds of pins, and the juice is extracted from outside the peel. In the FMC system, a finger is inserted into the orange which squeezes out the juice from within.
A number of kashrus experts have been examining Tropicana as well as other brands of orange juice and have come to the conclusion that, quite often, there are at least one to two fully intact scale bugs in each cup that was tested. These experts are located in Brooklyn and Lakewood. One of the experts is a pioneer in the field of “tola’im” and has been instrumental in setting up bug-checking stations in commercial establishments across the country.
This author decided to test some four containers of Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice. The method of testing was to pour each cup through a Fischer Scientific 62-micron nylon mesh and then to place the nylon mesh over a light box.
The testing revealed that each cup of Tropicana Pure Premium had on average of between three and four scale-bug parts in the juice that are visible to the naked eye on a light box. This was verified through the use of a USB microscope. In experiments conducted this week, about 1 in 20 cups actually revealed a fully intact scale bug. This is after examining four containers purchased in three locations, but admittedly within one week of each other.
Bringing these results up in discussions with at least three prominent kashrus consultants, it was concluded that it is difficult to state categorically at any given time whether a brand is infested or not. Rabbi Dovid Goldstein, a student of Rabbi Moshe Vaye from Jerusalem, informed the Five Towns Jewish Times of negotiations being currently conducted to work with one producer to create a high-end premium juice that is consistently scale-bug-free. Rabbi Goldstein has been instrumental in creating two of the inspection sites in Five Towns area grocery stores.
There is an interesting debate in general between the Aruch HaShulchan (100:17) and other poskim regarding disgusting items. The Aruch HaShulchan writes that something disgusting is batel (becomes nullified) in a mixture of 60 to 1, even if it is in full creature form (the entire body of the item is extant). Other poskim (including the author of the Shulchan Aruch himself) hold that in full creature form, it is not nullified even in a ratio of 1000 to 1. It seems, however, that even the Aruch HaShulchan only wrote this just to justify those who consume such items, but did not mean it as an actual ruling.
However, since we are dealing with a liquid, we must still ask whether this a prohibited ta’aroves, mixture. The Aruch HaShulchan (100:13–18) rules that in order for something to be considered a mixture, the bug or other item must be both visible and removable. In our case, if it is present, the bug is visible through the use of the 62-micron mesh filter. It is also removable.
What if someone does not have such a nylon mesh filter or a light box? It seems to this author, after discussion with two leading poskim, that if he needs to consume the food then and there, it is permitted. Ideally, however, if bugs are commonly found in the type of food under discussion, then the nylon mesh filter and light box should be acquired and used.
As far as the juice is concerned, while it does seem that the insect is completely intact in 1 in 20 cups of juice, the question arises as to whether this constitutes a “miyut ha’matzui” to necessitate filtering of the juice.
Many people are of the opinion that a miyut ha’matzui is 10 percent based upon a responsum of the Mishkenos Yaakov. Others are of the opinion that a miyut ha’matzui is anything over 6.66 percent. A third opinion (Sheivet HaLevi Vol. IV #81) is that miyut ha’matzui cannot be quantified statistically and varies depending upon the situation. It is this author’s understanding that Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, accepted the view of the Mishkenos Yaakov.
If one wishes to be stringent, one can, of course, stick to freshly squeezed orange juice in which no oils are added to the juice.
This author’s halachic conclusion is that technically, one may rely on the Mishkenos Yaakov.
What Tropicana Can Do
If the consumer were made aware that, according to many consultants, on average, a half-gallon container of Tropicana Pure Premium may contain anywhere from 2 to 16 fully intact scale bugs that can be readily seen by the naked eye, Tropicana might do something about it. What they can possibly do is (1) introduce additional high-powered washing cycles before the juices and oils are extracted from the oranges; (2) look into additional methods of removing the level of scale infestation in its juice oranges; and (3) adjust the filtering process and the centrifuging in the oil extraction process when adding the oils to exclude scale bugs.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.
Note: Much of the information used for this article came from document Cir 1241 from the Pesticide Information Office of the University of Florida; an article entitled “A Novel Nonchemical Method for Quarantine Treatment of Fruits” in Commodity Treatment and Quarantine Entomology; Rabbi Vaye’s writings; and interviews with two juice-production consultants.