It’s not every day that you can lend any credibility to the many viral things that get passed around on Facebook or Twitter. If anything, Facebook has almost revived the old chain letter spam that you used to get by email, but now you’ll find it shared on your Facebook wall or in your newsfeed. It was just yesterday when I ran across one of these items being shared in my newsfeed that screamed, “DANGER TO YOUR FAMILY!!” What was this lurking danger that your family needed to know about? Apparently there is some information about baby carrots that most people don’t know.
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The current viral explosion looks like it was originally shared by a man named Victor Zammit on January 10th, 2013 and is has now reached 23,101 shares and is still getting shared every few seconds. The message is as follows:
“DANGER TO YOUR FAMILY!!
From the Department of Life Education:
The following is information from a farmer who grows and packages carrots for IGA, METRO, LOBLAWS, etc.
The small cocktail (baby) carrots you buy in small plastic bags are made using the larger crooked or deformed carrots which are put through a machine which cuts and shapes them into cocktail carrots – most people probably know this already.
What you may not know and should know is the following:
Once the carrots are cut and shaped into cocktail carrots they are dipped in a solution of water and chlorine in order to preserve them (this is the same chlorine used in your pool).
Since they do not have their skin or natural protective covering, they give them a higher dose of chlorine.
You will notice that once you keep these carrots in your refrigerator for a few days, a white covering will form on the carrots. This is the chlorine which resurfaces. At what cost do we put our health at risk to have esthetically pleasing vegetables?
Chlorine is a very well-known carcinogen, which causes Cancer. I thought this was worth passing on. Pass it on to as many people as possible in hopes of informing them where these carrots come from and how they are processed.
I used to buy those baby carrots for vegetable dips. I know that I will never buy them again!!!!”
It all makes the situation sound pretty horrible, doesn’t it? It appears this same information was spreading at the end of 2008 and all through 2009. In 2011 it had a resurgence and in 2013 it has now taken off with a vengeance thanks to the ability for people to share things on Facebook.
We’re posting some shots of Google Trend graphs of people searching for baby carrots along with people searching for baby carrots chlorine. You can see that every time the blue graph spikes there is an underlying search interest that is popping up about baby carrots and chlorine. Unfortunately for the mini peeled carrot companies, whether they are organic farms or not, the trend seems to have gotten bigger than it ever has in the past. One thing that this reveals to me is that people find it important to know that baby carrots sold in bags in the store are not in fact baby carrots. The other thing it seems is pretty important to people is finding out that the baby carrots are either soaked in chlorine or they are rinsed with chlorine before they are shipped to you to consume.
Now one more trend graph we’ll take a look at before jumping in and trying to see if there any truth to all this is the most recent trend. The trend graph above is from 2004 to 2013 so we can see the trends over time. If we zoom in and just look at January 2012 to January 2013 we see a significant spike in people going to Google and searching for “baby carrots chlorine.” We did find some other people searching for baby carrots and bleach but we haven’t found much information on that so we’re going to leave it alone for now. One thing is for certain, if you’re in the carrot farming business and you’re selling “mini carrots, “baby carrots”, “peeled carrots” or all the other names given to this creation, you might want to get your PR people on this.
Since I started juicing in 2012 I became very interested in carrots and these baby carrots are easy for preparation, snacking and even juicing because you don’t have to clean them, chop them and prepare them for snacking or juicing. My wife and I started buying Earthbound Farm Organic Mini Peeled Carrots from Costco months ago to save time and a little money. What we used to buy were the very large and great tasting carrots also from Earthbound Farm.
Now it seems I may be one of the only people that didn’t know this, but I really wasn’t paying attention or aware that baby carrots are not baby carrots at all. The carrots are in fact cut from larger carrots to a smaller size, peeled with a machine and then mechanical peelers and shapers make them look like little baby carrots. I do feel a little bit deceived but it’s honestly my own ignorance that lead me to believe these carrots were baby carrots grown from the ground. If you’re curious what a machine looked like that shapes and mechanically peels the larger carrots down to baby carrots the image below shows what one looks like:
Baby Carrot Machine
Taking a look in Google images at “baby carrots growing” you can definitely see real baby carrots are much more long, slender and have a different look to them as you can see below.
Is the white stuff on baby carrots chlorine? No.
So while we’re on the topic of these normal carrots being mechanically peeled and shaped to look like baby carrots, let’s debunk some misinformation that is being spread about the baby carrots and chlorine causing white marks on the carrots. From the viral piece of Facebook spreading about mini carrots and chlorine it states, “You will notice that once you keep these carrots in your refrigerator for a few days, a white covering will form on the carrots. This is the chlorine which resurfaces.” This part is just absolutely absurd. The white covering is simply cuts and gashes from the carrot being peeled and mechanically shaped into a cute little baby carrots. You can test this out for yourself by getting an unaltered carrot and cutting it up with a knife and letting it sit out. You will notice that the parts you’ve cut with the knife will look white as the carrot dries out and the water evaporates.
I put two pictures below of the “mini peeled carrots” I buy from Costco under the brand Earthbound Farm. Let’s take a look at the packaging first. The first picture below is of the front of the packaging which you can see is clearly labeled “ORGANIC” and the second picture is what the sales display looks like in Costco of the Earthbound Farm “Organic Peeled Carrots” that are in the 5 pound bag for $5.79. At Costco when something is Organic they often highlight the word on the price tag with green to alert you that you’re buying an organic product. I would have to say the labeling and pricetag do state that these are “peeled” carrots and also Earthbound Farm’s box says, “Mini Peeled Carrots” which hints at the fact that these carrots are mechanically shaped. In the second picture you can see that the only ingredient listed on the bag is, “Organic Carrots.” The back of the package also states Earthbound’s product description which says, “Fresh from the fields to you, Earthbound Farm organic mini peeled carrots are delicious and nutritious.” If you take a look in the second picture you can see the white look the carrots get after you’ve had them for a week or so from the mechanical peeling & cutting marks showing after water evaporates.
Now what about the chlorine, are mini carrots really soaked in a chlorine solution, then bagged up and shipped to you to consume? Yes and no it seems. The catch to me is that I assumed that using chlorine on products that you’re eating wouldn’t be an organic approved process. According to Earthbound Farm’s statement on Facebook however, the “lightly chlorinated water” is in compliance with the USDA organic regulations.” I found that someone asked them about the baby carrot rumor spreading on Facebook and they quickly answered the question honestly. I definitely have to give Earthbound Farm some kudos for addressing the matter! The question on Facebook and their statement is as follows:
From: Samantha Heitov Whittle
“Sorry if this has been answered, but is there any truth the baby carrots soaked in chlorine thing that’s floating around the internet? and if so, are EBFarm baby carrots treated this way? thanks!”
Earthbound Farm reply to Samantha’s question:
“Hi Samantha, Thanks for the question. Our Earthbound Farm Mini Peeled Carrots are a specific variety of full size carrots that are particularly sweet. They are harvested, cut to size and peeled with mechanical peelers. Since this is a ready to eat product, they are then washed with a chilled, lightly chlorinated water, rinsed and packaged. This procedure is in compliance with the USDA organic regulations and is used to ensure the highest food safety standards. – Hillary at Earthbound”
This was almost to the letter the same exact explanation that Earthbound gave another customer by email nearly three years ago. I found the previous statement from Earthbound Farm on Yahoo Answers from a customer posting about it to see if other people were aware of the chlorine in carrots and mechanical processing. What is great is that at least the statement has stayed consistent and stories aren’t changing. It seems that most companies that sell baby carrots have made similar statements and all have about the same process whether they are organic carrots or non-organic carrots.
So let’s sum up the facts we’ve confirmed about baby carrots:
- Baby Carrots Are Cut To Size
- Baby Carrots Are Peeled & Shaped With Mechanical Peelers
- Baby Carrots Are Washed With Chlorinated Water
- USDA Organic Regulations Approve of Chlorine for cleaning
- Baby Carrots Are Not Soaked In Wash Water*
- White On Carrots Are From Peeling & Dehydration Process*
- Drinking Water Has The Same 4 ppm Chlorine Regulation*
- Carrots Are Grown Specifically For Baby Carrots / Mini Peeled Carrots*
* Anything marked with this is information confirmed and derived from a response from Earthbound Farm which is listed below in their response. Some of the items could be different according to the company but we can confirm it is the case with Earthbound Farm.
I looked more into the USDA’s regulation surrounding the use of chlorine for cleaning, disinfecting and it’s use on organic products. A document I found dated May 6th, 2011 called National Organic Program Notice to Stakeholders and Interested Parties with a subject of: “Issuance of Final Guidance and Response to Comments” states some pretty specific things about using chlorine on organic products and the limits allowed.
Under a section called changes requested but not made listed as item number two it states:
“Free Chlorine Materials Should Never Exceed 4 ppm when in Contact with Organic Products. One certification agency disagreed with the interpretation that chlorine levels higher than those permitted by the Safe Drinking Water Act (generally 4 parts per million (ppm) for free chlorine) should be allowed in direct contact with organic products. The commenter suggested that peracetic acid is an available alternative to chlorine with less concern for human health and negative environmental impact. We acknowledge this concern, but this guidance followed the advice of the NOSB recommended a final rinse with potable water as a measure to protect consumers from excessive levels of chlorine in organic products. New developments in food safety techniques and materials may merit further review by the NOSB, and members of the public may wish to petition NOSB for a change in status of chlorine products in the future.”
What is the NOSB? The NOSB is the National Organic Standards Board. They are comprised of the following:
- Four farmers/growers
- Three environmentalists/resource conservationists
- Three consumer/public interest advocates
- Two handlers/processors
- One retailer
- One scientist (toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry)
- One USDA accredited certifying agent
It seems that if you’re unhappy as a consumer about baby carrots / mini peeled carrots being treated with chlorine beyond potentially safe levels that you that USDA recommends that you petition the National Organic Standards Board for change. If this is important to you, it’s up to you to make a difference and make your case for change!
I did reach out to Earthbound Farm with a list of questions in hopes that they would answer. I’m still waiting to see if they answer and if they do, I’ll definitely post their answers to my specific questions. For the record, here is the email I sent to Earthbound Farms:
“Hi Earthbound Farms!
My wife and I are purchasers of your product. We get your baby carrots from Costco and love them because it reduces our prep time. I saw the Facebook rumor passing around about the baby carrots being soaked in chlorine. I was happy to see you answered the question on your Facebook wall from a customer.
I’m currently doing a news story on the topic for z6mag.com and wanted to know if you have anything else to add, besides the official statement you have used for the last few years.
I also wanted to see if you have any video of your baby carrot processing to help people understand the process more instead of the “hype” that seems to be built into the Facebook message. Do you have any statement or statistics on the amount of chlorine used in the rinse process or how much remains on or in a mini carrot that is consumed?
Are the carrots soaked in the chlorine solution, or are they rinsed? Are the carrots discarded & unusable large carrots or are they specifically grown for the mini peeled carrot process? Does Earthbound feel that the white look of the carrots is from chlorine or that typical of any carrot after it has dried out a bit?
We would love to get any help putting together this news piece to make sure that people are not set with misconceptions about this. I have to be honest, I feel that we are probably coming into contact with more chlorine by going to the public pool or maybe even drinking our own tap water.
Any help with the facts would be appreciated!
Sincerely a customer,
Executive Editor at z6mag.com”
I’m pleased to let you know that we did hear back from Earthbound Farms this morning around 11:34am. I’m really pleased with the response from Samantha at Earthbound because she’s extremely, frank, courteous and very informative. I definitely don’t want to paraphrase the information given to me from Samantha at Earthbound Farm as I feel they have the right to have their opinion heard considering the viral messages going around. I have added some bolding to the type font to highlight important parts. The message I received from Samantha today is posted below in it’s entirety, a partial screenshot is also below:
From: Earthbound Farm
Just saw your post on z6mag.com and so I checked this message box. I don’t have any video of the baby carrot processing, but I’ve watched it myself. The carrots are not soaked in the wash water and I wouldn’t call it a chlorine solution because it’s by far and away primarily water — even though it’s accurate to say it’s a solution, I think it creates the wrong impression.
I haven’t timed the wash/rinse, but it’s probably a minute or less. According to the organic standards, residual chlorine must be no more than 4 parts per million, which is the same allowance as drinking water in the US.
The chlorine is an important, if small, part of the process to help mitigate any harmful bacteria that might come in on the carrots. Remember, they are grown in the soil and, for the most part, these mini-peeled carrots are eaten right out of the bag so there would be no cooking to deal with those issues.
Certainly, we’d like to use something other than chlorine as our sanitizer (and we are working on a few research projects with citrus-based sanitizers), but to date, we have yet to find another that is as effective in low concentrations as chlorine.
The carrots are grown specifically for this process and are a variety with very little central core — not rejects or discards (otherwise they wouldn’t be so sweet).
As many people smarter than I am have written, the white on the carrots has nothing to do with the chlorine and everything to do with the peeling process and then drying out. And I would add that if people are still uncomfortable with the concept, then I would encourage them to choose regular unpeeled table carrots, which we also produce in abundance. They are less expensive, but less convenient since you’d have to wash (please!), peel (or not) and cut up to have the nice, snack sized pieces that you get in a bag of mini-peeled carrots.
And at Earthbound Farm, we’ve always called them mini-peeled carrots as opposed to baby carrots. It’s just a more accurate description of what they are.
Thanks, Joel. Please let me know if you have any other questions.
I wanted to make sure that drinking water is in fact at 4 ppm as Samantha said. I trust her as she’s very informative, just want to make sure we’re all going by the facts here. The acceptable amount by the EPA is listed on an article that discusses drinking water regulations for disinfectants. The EPA calls this limit the maximum residual disinfectant level (MRDL) which is listed at the following level for Chlorine:
So there you have it, hopefully we’ll get more detailed answers to things like how much chlorine is used in the process and if it is completely rinsed off before the carrots even get to your store. I have to think that If you go to the public pool you are most likely coming into contact with more chlorine than from the cleaning process of these baby carrots. It seems this isn’t a baby carrot chlorine conspiracy, hoax or whatever you want to call it, but is something to keep you safe and make your life easier. It has also been stated by other people that most of the vegetable industry cleans their produce with a chlorine wash to keep things from rotting as fast and kill bacteria to keep you safe.
What questions do you have about the mini peeled carrots and chlorine?
Do you think it’s acceptable that something sold as organic is bathed in chlorine water, do you think that’s safe?
We’d love to hear from you and would love post any comments you have about this matter.