Even as an adult, I’ve had my share of juice boxes. These are the little containers of pure fruit juice that you don’t even have to open. You can just punch the sharp end of the provided straw into the conveniently located hole, and you’re ready to sip the contents. How easy it’s been to just throw one or two in my lunch box for convenient refreshment during a long day at work.
But with the news that has recently come to light, I’ve had my last juice box. And the idea of a parent giving one to a child makes me shudder.
Why would a product consisting of pure fruit juice be so problematic?
A juice box may contain more than you bargained for
The problem arises precisely because the juice box was filled with pure and sterile fruit juice. As long as the juice remains in a sterile environment, all is well. But, since the juice is pure with no preservatives added, if its sterility is ever compromised, the sugar-laden juice becomes the perfect environment for the growth of disgusting and slimy mold. All it takes is a pin-prick sized puncture of the box, one too small to reveal itself by allowing any liquid to escape, but which is entirely large enough to allow air to get in. When that happens, the juice may ferment, and mold may grow undetected inside the box as it sits on the store shelf or in your cupboard.
That’s what happened recently to a Brooklyn family whose 2-year-old was given a juice box. Shortly after drinking the contents, the child began throwing up. The father opened the box, found a mushy glob of mold floating inside, and rushed his son to the emergency room. The child was immediately put on antibiotics. As is often the case, the father says that prior to his opening it, the juice box was still enclosed in its plastic wrap, and was well short of its expiration date. Looking at it from the outside, there was no way to know the container had been breached and mold was growing inside.
The good news: the mold is not really dangerous
According to Dr. Kathleen M. Berchelmann, a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, “moldy, fermented juice is usually not very dangerous to drink. An upset stomach and a totally grossed out mom are the most common complications.”
However, Kathleen Dannelly, associate professor of microbiology at Indiana State University, who found five different types of molds in pouches of Kraft’s Capri Sun product, warns that “In patients who are immune-compromised and some other underlying diseases, this could create a health concern for them.”
Manufacturers urge that not only are the cases of mold in their products not truly dangerous, they occur, as a spokesperson for Nestlé says, only in “very rare circumstances.”
But Dr. Berchelmann recommends against giving juice boxes to children anyway, because of the amount of sugar and calories the juice contains. “Too much fruit juice can also cause tooth decay, diarrhea, and flatulence,” she says. “There are plenty of other healthy foods that contain the vitamins your kids need, and without the high sugar and calories. Kids just don’t need juice.”
Although mold growing unseen in a juice box or pouch may not constitute a long-term risk to health, I can’t imagine that anyone, parents especially, would willingly subject themselves or their children to the possibility of consuming such a compromised product. Juice boxes are certainly convenient. But are they really worth the risk?