Who would have guessed that one of the most “viral” things I’ve ever posted on Facebook would be about organic baby carrots? Clearly people want to understand and discuss baby carrots! As a result I decided to do some additional research on the topic and also restate what I learned (and shared) in my original post. So today I am shedding some light on the two mysteries that surround baby carrots: how they are made and if they are really “soaked in chlorine.” I buy baby carrots on occasion (they are not a regular purchase but can be handy in a lunchbox), and like others I honestly just wanted to know the truth.
And speaking of the truth, I want to share that I do not like to spread misinformation so please know the facts I am sharing do not come from Snopes or Google or a Facebook “friend” or any other questionable source.
3/5/13 update: To clarify, it is not my intent to discredit Snopes or other sources, but rather to point out that I did not rely on 3rd party information.
I called up the carrot company myself to get these answers (the 800 number is right there on the back of the package), and if you think produce companies would spread misinformation to customers like me about their government-regulated processes then that’s a whole other blog post for another day! But for now, I believe what they’ve told me – and sent me in writing – is pretty solid.
How Baby Carrots Are Made
Let’s face it – baby carrots do not look like regular carrots. First off, they are a smaller size and their rounded edges sort of resemble little “stubs,” and when you cut them down the middle you don’t quite see the same core that you would find in a regular carrot. So, what are baby carrots anyway?
According to California-based Grimmway Farms (baby carrot producers under names like Cal-Organic), the carrots they use are a specific variety that are smaller in diameter than regular table carrots and grown just for the production of baby carrots. The end product is shorter in length than regular carrots because, well, they cut them. They say their baby carrot variety looks similar to a regular carrot right out of the ground except it’s smaller in diameter, sweeter, more tender, and – while it still has a core down the middle – the core is much more slender than a traditional table carrot. So the diameter of the baby carrot that you see in the store is the actual diameter of the original carrot. But these carrots grow about 8 – 10 inches long so as I mentioned they cut them into small pieces, abrasively peel them with something like a potato peeler, then wash and package them for stores. (Pictures of this whole process are unfortunately proprietary.)
I asked why the edges of the peeled baby carrots are rounded and they said when they go through the peeler they tumble together (like a rock tumbler) so the edges get “polished” by other carrots during that process. I also asked what they do with the “waste” from the peels and tips, which they call the “mash,” and they said the tips are used for other products like shredded carrots (sold as salad toppers) and the peels are used for cattle feed. So long story short, just like there are different varieties of apples (Honey Crisp vs. Granny Smith) there are different varieties of carrots, and some happen to be smaller in diameter than others!
Are Baby Carrots “Soaked in Chlorine?”
There’s a pretty big rumor going around that peeled baby carrots are “soaked in a chlorine solution.” Some even take it so far as to say what makes these carrots turn white over time is the chlorine coming to the surface. As it turns out, according to a written statement from Grimmway Farms (which is the largest producer of baby carrots in the United States), the carrots are treated with WATER that contains a small amount of chlorine. And this water/chlorine solution is “well within the limits established by the EPA and comparable to the amount acceptable in [public] drinking water.”
I am by no means condoning the consumption of chlorine (that’s an even bigger issue), but the amount of chlorine in the water they use is 4 parts per million (ppm), which, for some, is similar to what’s in your drinking water. Again this is certainly not ideal, but I personally find that to be a lot less “dramatic” than carrots being soaked in straight up chlorine. They also said, “[The] chlorine is used to keep the carrots, the processing water and the processing equipment in a sanitary condition in order to prevent the spread of food-born pathogens [like e. coli].”
How Does that Compare to the Chlorine in a Pool?
Believe it or not the government regulation for chlorine allowed in a swimming pool is LESS than what’s allowed in public drinking water, which varies by region but is generally 1 – 3 ppm! My first thought (aside from “that’s crazy”) is that I can sometimes smell chlorine coming off of swimming pools so how could that be? Apparently, according to multiple sources, the aroma that you smell when you are at the pool could actually be from the pool not having enough chlorine. Cited from the Water Quality & Health Council (and verified through many other sources), that smell could “indicate that the pool water has not been properly treated. A common cause is high levels of chloramines, formed when chlorine combines with body oils, perspiration, urine and other contaminants brought into pools by swimmers. Contrary to what most people think, a strong chemical smell is not an indication of too much chlorine in the pool. In fact, the pool may actually need additional chlorine treatment to get rid of chloramines and sanitize the water.” Nice.
So, Why do Baby Carrots Turn White?
The white color that you sometimes see on the outside of baby carrots is technically called “blush” and it’s the evidence of dehydration. This could even happen to your own fresh carrots that you peel and then let sit in the fridge for days or weeks prior to eating them. This happens because, according to Grimmway, even though the carrots have been pulled out of the ground and peeled they are still living roots so they sometimes turn white to create a new protective outer layer. They said this does not change the nutritional value or affect the food safety of the carrots…frankly it just isn’t pretty (and it could sometimes mean the carrots will taste a little dried out). Putting those carrots in a bowl of ice water will help bring back the bright orange color if it concerns you.
So, in summary, I’ve said this about conventional produce before and I’ll say it about baby carrots: Eating any produce is far better than eating none at all. But if avoiding standard tap water is important to you then you might want to rethink what kind of carrots you buy at the grocery store. Like I said above we normally buy whole carrots ourselves (and even grow our own wild carrots in the winter!), but a couple readers pointed out to me that even if you buy fresh carrots then “wash” them off in your chlorinated tap water before eating them…how is that much different than the baby carrot process? And here we go further and further down the rabbit hole, which is honestly a place I like to avoid (since it’s clearly unrealistic to go live in a bubble somewhere). So, no matter what kind of carrots you decide to buy going forward (now that you have the facts), hopefully some of you, like me, will be relieved to know that baby carrots are NOT actually soaked in a pure chlorine bath.
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