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Carrot and Shtick

Claim:   Baby carrots are made from deformed full-sized carrots that have been permeated with chlorine.


Example: [Collected via e-mail, March 2008]

The "cute" cocktail carrots that you buy in grocery stores come from deformed crooked big carrots. They are put through a machine to become small cocktail carrots. This part everyone knows.

After they are cut to size they are soaked in large vats of water mixed with chlorine to preserve them. The same chlorine you use for your swimming pools and laundry. The reason for this is because they don't have the protection of the skin so they use a good amount of chlorine.

Notice that after you have stored them in the fridge for a while, a white film forms on them... it's the chlorine coming to the surface.

At what cost do we risk our health to have esthetically presentable VEGGIES? Well Folks... I think after reading this we will all strart making our own carrot sticks out of fresh carrots and keep them in the fridge (a few at a time), right?

Origins:   In March 2008 we began receiving this e-mailed heads-up cautioning consumers that what we call "baby carrots" are actually deformed (crooked) regular carrots that have been whittled down and marinated in chlorine. It is true some food products labeled as baby carrots are made by cutting down larger roots and that these items can be treated with chlorine during processing. It's not true there's anything wrong with the larger carrots they're made from, or that the resultant vegetables reach consumers in a chlorine-soaked state.

"Baby-cut" versions are not now made from imperfect larger carrots, although the motivation for the invention of this product was a desire to find a use for standard-sized carrots that otherwise would have to have been discarded. The carrots now used to make "baby-cut carrots" have been specially bred to contain more sugar than their standard-sized cousins because this extra sweetness appeals more strongly to children. Likewise, their bright orange color has also been
bred into them, as has the evenness of that color all the way through the root.

As an antimicrobial treatment to minimize or reduce the contamination of the finished product, cocktail carrots can be treated with chlorine. Those that are will be subsequently rinsed with potable water to remove the excess chlorine before being packaged.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the use of chlorine as an antimicrobial treatment is a current accepted practice in the processing for all fresh-cut ready-to-eat vegetables (see Section 4.4). As for the "white film" the e-mailed alert claims is the "chlorine coming to the surface," that white blush is caused by dehydration of the cut surface — were you to pull a carrot from your own garden, slice it in half and place it in your refrigerator, it too would manifest that same whitish appearance on the cut portion once the carrot dried out a bit. Cocktail carrots are more prone to develop this only because their entire surface area is a cut surface. To keep cocktail carrots from drying out, store them at low temperature and in a high relative humidity environment.

"Baby-cuts" are part of a sharp upsurge in the carrot's popularity in the U.S. Between 1970 and 1986, Americans ate 6 pounds of carrots per person per year. However, American consumption of carrots began to take off in 1987, and by 2002 it had reached 11 pounds per person.

To make "baby-cuts," these large sweet carrots are machine cut into 2-inch sections, then abraded (scraped) down to size, their ends rounded by the same process:
  1. In the field, two-story carrot harvesters use long metal prongs to open up the soil, while rubber belts grab the green tops and pull. The carrots ride up the belts to the top of the picker, where an automated cutter snips off the greens.
  2. They're trucked to the processing plant, where they're put in icy water to bring their temperature down to 37 degrees to inhibit spoiling.
  3. They are sorted by thickness. Thin carrots continue on the processing line; the others will be used as whole carrots, juice, or cattle feed. An inspector looks for rocks, debris or malformed carrots that slip through.
  4. The carrots are shaped into 2-inch pieces by automated cutters. An optical sorter discards any piece that has green on it.
  5. The pieces are pumped through pipes to the peeling tanks. The peelers rotate, scraping the skin off the carrots. There are two stages: an initial rough peel and then a final "polishing."
  6. The carrots are weighed and bagged by an automated scale and packager, then placed in cold storage until they are shipped.
Generally, consumers can determine whether small carrots are true baby carrots or not by looking at what's listed on the packaging. Labels that say "baby carrots" appear on packages of very young carrots that are harvested while the vegetables are still quite tiny. Labels that proclaim "baby-cut carrots" appear on packages of petite carrots made by chopping down and polishing much larger versions of the vegetable.

Barbara "root seller" Mikkelson

Last updated:   4 December 2012

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    Fishman, Charles.   "Baby, Maybe."
    Fast Company.   May 2004   (p. 40).

    TechMan.   "With Food, Trust Us, Low-Tech is Better."
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   1 July 2007   (p. F6).

    Weise, Elizabeth.   "Digging the Baby Carrot."
    USA Today.   11 August 2004.

    San Antonio Express-News.   "Q&A."
    21 April 2004   (p. F2).