May 5, 1999 | By: Mark Eclov

A group of Kentucky apple growers recently converged on the Garrett's Orchard and Country Market to see one possible way to revitalize commercial apple production in the state.

The system shown at the Woodford county orchard was an FDA approved flash pasteurization machine.

"It differs from a traditional pasteurization process because it doesn't heat the cider up as hot or heat it for as long a period of time as the process used for canned and bottled apple juice," said John Strang, Extension fruits and vegetable specialist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"As a result, this process produces cider that may be like the raw product and at the same time eliminates bacterial and some fungi problems," said Strang.

It is estimated that nine or ten units such as the one shown at Garrett's orchard or systems like the Ultra Violet processor recently shown at Jackson's Orchard near Bowling Green will be up and running around the state by the fall harvest season.

Partial funding for the systems are being provided through a cost share program, funded by the Kentucky state legislature and the State Department of Agriculture and distributed by the Kentucky State Horticultural Society.

It is hoped that a good educational program on food safety and pasteurization equipment can rekindle a dwindling local cider industry that has been hit hard by the national news reports on the e-coli problem and a large amount of low cost juice concentrate coming in from Asian markets.

"While we haven't had any recorded e-coli problems with apple cider produced in Kentucky, it is a perceived problem and our growers want to insure a safe product for their customers," said Strang.

Apple cider has been an important value-added product for Kentucky fruit growers. Cider is normally made from number two grade apples which are smaller, slightly blemished apples that aren't as attractive enough to sell as an eating apple, but taste just as good as number one apples when pressed into cider.

Fresh apple cider can be a big draw to get people out to retail stores located on the larger orchards or to area farmer's markets. If properly refrigerated, pasteurized cider also has an extended shelf life.

"The real plus is that local growers have control over the blend of ciders used and therefore can produce a superior tasting product compared to national brands," said Garrett.

"By adding pasteurization to the process, we also allay some of the fears for important customers like mothers with young children and the elderly who as a group are more concerned about the wholeness issue," added Garrett.

Strang noted that most producers will have their best luck selling their product on the local level.

Jerry Brown, Extension fruit specialist in the UK College of Agriculture based in Princeton, KY, added that a small group of producers is positioned to break into regional or statewide supermarket chains.

"I know of some growers that approach the capacity to sell wholesale," said Brown. "If a group of these producers could come together for a cooperative arrangement that would include making a pasteurized cider and also marketing under a cooperative label, two or three of these growers could supply a retail outlet."

The State Horticulture Society is cooperating with the Kentucky Department of Health to help growers determine what kind of support they can get from the state, understand the type of of sanitation requirements needed to produce a wholesome product and to provide opportunities to see the latest options in equipment that may help renew cider making within the state.



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Contact: 

Writer: Mark Eclov 606-257-7223
Source: John Strang 606-257-5685