WASHINGTON (AP) - The Food and Drug Administration says it has confirmed low levels of an illegal fungicide in orange juice samples taken from Florida manufacturers.
The FDA says the fungicide is far below dangerous levels, the juice is safe to drink and the orange juice won't be recalled from stores or destroyed. The juice tested was mixed with product from Brazil, where the fungicide carbendazim is used.
The government is testing for the chemical in domestic orange juice and in imports because carbendazim is not approved for use on oranges in the United States. It is used in other countries, including Brazil, to combat mold on orange trees.
The test results are the first domestic samples released by the FDA. The government started testing for the chemical after Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, which owns juice brands Minute Maid and Simply Orange, reported finding the chemical in its own juice and in competing juices late last year. Most orange juice products made by Coke and other companies contain a blend of juice from different sources, including Brazil, which is the world's largest orange producer.
The FDA said that nine of 14 samples taken from large holding tanks of juice in Florida tested positive at up to 36 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency has said studies show no risks of consuming the chemical at up to 80 parts per billion and true levels of danger are probably thousands of times higher.
The agency said the juice in the tanks will packaged in hundreds of thousands of retail size containers, so the tests were a good representative sample of what will end up on store shelves. The FDA said it will do follow-up testing at the facilities but did not release the names of the companies where the samples were taken.
Though the EPA says the juice is safe, the FDA is still detaining any orange juice imports that contain the chemical at more than 10 parts per billion, which is the lowest detectable level. The agency has detained almost a quarter of 86 orange juice shipments at the border since the first of the year, hoping to phase the carbendazim out of the U.S. supply.
"We looked at products already in the country and realized there was no safety risk there, and yet carbendazim is technically illegal, we know Brazil uses it and we want to prevent it from entering the country," said FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey.
All of the imports detained are from Brazil and Canada. Canada doesn't grow oranges but purchases orange juice products from other countries, including Brazil, and then exports it to the United States.
Test results released by the FDA showed the highest levels found were in a Jan. 11 shipment of concentrate from Brazil. That shipment contained up to 60 parts per billion of the fungicide, though most samples were much lower.
FDA updates on fungicide in orange juice: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/FruitsVegetablesJuices/ucm288004.htm