Apple variety, harvest, quality sorting, and storage practices were assessed to determine their impact on the microflora of unpasteurized cider. Seven apple varieties were harvested from the tree or the ground. The apples were used fresh or were stored at 0 to 4°C for ≤5 months and were pressed with or without quality selection. Cider yield, pH, Brix value, and titratable acidity were measured. Apples, postpressing apple pomace, and cider samples were analyzed for aerobic bacteria, yeasts, and molds. Aerobic bacterial plate counts (APCs) of ciders from fresh ground-picked apples (4.89 log CFU/ml) were higher than those of ciders made from fresh, tree-picked apples (3.45 log CFU/ml). Quality sorting further reduced the average APC to 2.88 log CFU/ml. Differences among all three treatment groups were significant (P < 0.0001). Apple and pomace microbial concentrations revealed harvest and postharvest treatment-dependent differences similar to those found in cider. There were significant differences in APC among apple varieties (P = 0.0001). Lower counts were associated with varieties exhibiting higher Brix values and higher titratable acidity. Differences in APC for stored and fresh apples used for cider production were not significant (P > 0.05). Yeast and mold counts revealed relationships similar to those for APCs. The relationship between initial microbial load found on incoming fruit and final cider microbial population was curvilinear, with the weakest correlations for the lowest apple microflora concentrations. The lack of linearity suggests that processing equipment contributed to cider contamination. Tree-picked quality fruit should be used for unpasteurized cider production, and careful manufacturing practices at cider plants can impact both safety and quality of the final product.
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