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How Cereals Maintain Fruit Flavor, Freshness

April 30, 2001|Phil Lempert

Question: I've noticed that many breakfast cereals have added "real" fruit, for example, strawberries. How do they do this to avoid spoilage? Are any preservatives used?

--KIM BOUCHER

Answer: Beth Olson, director of nutrition at Kellogg Co., tells me that the cereal maker uses a freeze-drying process to remove the water from the berries. No colorings or preservatives are used. A low-pressure vacuum is used to remove the water, which is how the strawberries maintain their flavor, aroma and appearance. However, you should know that the oxidation in the freeze-drying process does diminish the amount of vitamin C, which is naturally occurring in the berries. But the company says that the nutritional benefit of other vitamins and minerals in the fruit is not diminished. Not all cereals use the same processes, so read the ingredient statement carefully. Any artificial colors, flavors and preservatives must be listed on the box.

Q: I am very concerned about cans of food and drink that are stored in warehouses and may be contaminated with foreign substances and cause illness. I've read to always use a straw. Is this true?

--EVA JEAN DUNKLE

A: Most food storage facilities are carefully maintained to ensure that no harmful substances come in contact with any food packaging. Inspect all cans to make sure the can is clean and without rust, dents or bulges. Clean the tops of all cans before you open them. For beverages with flip tops or other "easy open" methods, also wipe the opening that the beverage passes through. Use hot water and be sure that the ridge around the edge is also clean. As an extra precaution, use a straw that has been wrapped. For cans, inspect the blade of your can opener to make sure it is clean. Scrub the blade and gear fixture with hot soapy water before and after each use. Electric can openers with a removable-opening assembly can be put in the dishwasher.

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Phil Lempert is the food correspondent for NBC's "Today" show. He welcomes questions about food and health topics. Send queries by e-mail to Plempert@aol.com or in writing to Before You Bite, Los Angeles Times Health section, 202 W. First St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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