There's good news for small Western New York cider producers: Lower-cost cider sanitizing is nearly here.
Randy Worobo, a microbiologist and food-safety specialist at Cornell's Geneva Agricultural Experiment station, and two engineers, R. Philip Hartman and Patrick Borrelli, have devised a compact device that removes any E. coli bacteria that might be present in freshly squeezed cider by passing it under ultraviolet light.
In August, a year after a California child died and 68 others became ill after drinking contaminated apple juice, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration encouraged cider producers to pasteurize their cider.
The suggestion alarmed and even angered some cider producers. Some accepted the FDA suggestion, but others ignored it, even though it is expected to become mandatory. Still others, unable to justify the costs of pasteurizing equipment and arguing that the process robs cider of its flavor, just stopped pressing it.
Mayer Brothers of West Seneca, the region's largest cider producer, was unaffected because it has been "flash" pasteurizing cider for two decades.
Mayer was able to do that because its volume made the investment in the necessary equipment possible. Generally, thermal cider pasteurizers sell for up to $30,000, Worobo said. Clearly, that was too much for smaller producers.
So a new approach was needed for them.
"We call it 'UV treatment' and the result is the equivalent of thermal pasteurization," Hartman said. "We are completing the final testing required by the U.S Food & Drug Administration for its approval. The U.S. Apple Association and the New York State Horticultural Society are helping us."
"We are convinced that our device will meet FDA standards and we hope to receive its approval by August or September. A month after that, we'll be in production," he added.
Hartman said that Borrelli and he have formed the FPE Corp. to market the UV treatment device.
Joseph Corby, assistant director food safety and inspection for the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, said that "the UV treatment device could be the silver bullet that could save the cider industry."
He described the device as 2 feet square and 3 1/2 feet high with cider "in" and cider "out" connections.
And Hartman said the price is far below pasteurization.
"It just plugs into an electrical outlet and will treat 3 gallons of cider a minute or 180 gallons an hour. We will sell it installed for $12,000."