There is no truth to the myth that the whitish film on baby cut carrots is a chlorine residue from carrot processing.
Myth: The white film noticed occasionally on baby carrots is a chlorine residue from carrot processing that presents a cancer health risk to consumers.
Fact: The white film in question, sometimes referred to as “white blush” or “carrot blush,” is not chlorine, but a thin layer of dehydrated carrot. The film develops when baby carrots are exposed to the atmosphere and the outer layer of carrot becomes dry. Baby carrots, unlike their full-sized counterparts, do not have a protective skin that helps prevent drying. That’s because most baby carrots are made by cutting and shaping large deformed carrots. These are correctly called “baby-cut” carrots.
According to Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society (article), moisture loss from the carrot surface roughens up the carrot surface and causes light to be scattered, resulting in a whitish appearance. The white blush may also appear when abrasion damages cells on the carrot surface, releasing an enzyme that catalyzes the formation of lignin, a natural substance in plants that scatters light to produce a whitish tinge.
Eat Your Carrots!
Because of their beta carotene content, one-half cup of baby carrots supplies more than a day’s worth of Vitamin A, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s fact sheet on fresh baby carrots. The nutritional value of baby carrots is approximately the same as that of ordinary carrots. Vitamin A helps maintain the health of specialized tissues such as the retina; aids in the growth and health of skin and mucous membranes; and promotes normal development of the teeth, soft and skeletal tissue. Eating carrots can even enhance night vision.
FDA Recommends Antimicrobial Use in Produce Processing Water
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends baby carrots and many types of fresh produce be washed in an antimicrobial water solution during fresh produce processing. The purpose of this requirement is to reduce pathogens on fruits and vegetables that could cause an outbreak of foodborne illness. These germs may originate with soil contact or contamination during handling and processing. According to FDA’s Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, “Chlorine…is commonly added to water at 50-200 parts per million total chlorine, at a pH (a measure of acidity of the water) of 6.0-7.5, for post-harvest treatments of fresh produce, with a contact time of 1-2 minutes.” For reference, chlorinated drinking water contains up to 4 parts per million chlorine. As a final step, processing water is rinsed off produce with plain tap water.
The baby carrot myth has been making the rounds for years. Instead of representing a cancer health hazard, carrot processing with chlorinated water is a health-protective step that helps prevent foodborne outbreaks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year 48 million people, or one in six Americans, contract foodborne illnesses; 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die as a result of unsafe foods. We need to eat fruits and vegetables to stay healthy and antimicrobials like chlorine-based disinfectants help us do that safely. So, eat your carrots and enjoy!
Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.