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Don’t believe all you read about baby carrots

Jennifer Kiel bags of baby carrots
GOODNESS: Baby carrots are good for you and have vitamins A and C, fiber and beta carotene. Just because they can turn a little white after being exposed to air does not make them a carcinogen.
Find a different bandwagon, and stop spreading cancer-causing rumors.

It’s back. A Facebook fallacy that circulated about 10 years ago has gotten new life and again is drawing in followers who enjoy jumping on negativity.

This smear tactic was designed to undermine one of my favorite ranch-dipping partners — baby carrots. The post explains how baby carrots are made from larger crooked or deformed carrots. Word for word, it goes on to say, “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.”

The post reemerged a few weeks back and drew dozens of loathing comments. It seems when something sounds afoul or even the least bit suspicious, whether it be true or not, people are more than willing to call it out, add their two cents without any factual basis and spread fear of wrongdoing.

Farmers are generally highly regarded, but when it comes to food production and the potential for profits, consumers often toss realities aside and jump on the crusade of mounting suspicion — in this case, poisoning.

How dare they bash beta-carotene goodness? It’s one thing to curse fat-laden, sweetened, shaped, puffed, greased and processed crap food, but to loathe baby carrots is reprehensible.

The Facebook post further urges people who care about their family and friends to pass this knowledge on because, “Chlorine is a very well-known carcinogen.”

It was a bit disturbing for me to see two of my friends, whom I consider to be intelligent, quickly vow to boycott baby carrots.

Truth is, yes, baby carrots were the brainchild of a California grower who was tired of losing half of his cosmetically unmarketable carrot crop. Rather than berate this grower, I applaud him, as he developed a new marketing avenue. He peeled them down and used a green bean slicer to produce the first crop of what later would be a mainstay of the vegetable tray.

However, once the carrot had been whittled down, the core was left, and it wasn’t as appetizing. Most baby carrots now are being grown for that purpose, and through genetics, a carrot has been bred to have a much smaller and brighter orange core.

Baby carrots in the supermarket these days are either immature carrots bred to be small and harvested young, or they are baby-cut carrots bred to be long and thin, which are then cut into smaller pieces at the processor.

Just rehydrate

But what is this white stuff? Does it really contain a cancer-causing carcinogen? With just a little fact-checking, the source of the white film is caused by drying of the damaged (peeled) tissue as the carrots are exposed to air. They even have a name for it — white blush.

 If you’re still in doubt, try peeling a whole carrot and leaving it in the fridge. It will develop a white film as well. The good news is, it is perfectly fine to rejuvenate your white-blushed carrots with a cold bath because it does not affect the nutritional value or its taste.

Part of the Facebook post is correct in that carrots are exposed to chlorine, but not at high concentrations. Like other ready-to-eat fresh vegetables, baby carrots are rinsed or sprayed with diluted chlorine to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination, and then thoroughly washed and bagged. This process is approved by the FDA, with strict rules on the concentration of chlorine and how long the carrots can be exposed.

In some public water systems, you’d find the same level of chlorine in tap water. Chlorination is a well-known, well-tested way to disinfect food products by killing any potential bacteria. And, because it seems consumers have disassociated themselves with any responsibility for food safety — nobody wants to wash anything — the burden to ensure no one gets sick falls on food processors and farmers.

Baby carrots have been bred to be sweeter, more tender and a brighter orange. They’re a great, easy treat that’s packed with good stuff such as vitamins A and C, fiber and beta carotene. However, I will couch my praises just a bit, because if you really love the taste of carrots, you won’t find the true carrot taste in baby carrots.

Most of that wholesome beta carotene is found in the skin and outer portions of the carrot. It’s estimated up to 30% is lost in processing of baby carrots. But, eating carrots — baby or not — is still good for you and much better than many alternatives.

I quickly commented on the Facebook post and squashed the notion that baby carrots are laden with chlorine and apt to cause cancer. I set the record straight, and my friends deleted their babble — at least one stream of nonsense shut down. Bugs Bunny would be proud, and I certainly have no intention of depriving my celery and cauliflower of baby carrots’ company on my vegetable tray.

TAGS: Vegetables
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