Information provided by Debra Levey Larson at the University of Illinois

URBANA – Fallen apples from homeowners’ fruit trees may contain patulin, a toxic chemical produced by fungi such as Aspergillus, Penicillin. Consequently, the fruit should not be eaten or used in baking.

“While pasteurization, which heats product to 180 degrees, will destroy live micro-organisms, it has no effect on heat-stable patulin toxins. Consequently, damaged apples should not be used by homeowners, even for canning, jelly making, or in pies,” said nutrition and wellness educator Drusilla Banks.

Banks said the fungi gain easy entry into the fruits that have been bruised or damaged by insects.

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The Food and Drug Administration has set a maximum tolerance level of 0.5 parts per billion patulin content, according to U of I Extension local foods systems and small farms educator James Theuri. “To put it another way, 0.5 ppb is equivalent to one teaspoonful of patulin in 2,000,000,000 gallons of apple cider or juice,” Theuri said. “This is why consumers who have apple trees should absolutely not use apple drops, or bruised, damaged fruits. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry.”

U of I Extension Specialist Mosbah Kushad stressed that this is a message that is important for homeowners who have apple trees. “Reputable commercial growers are aware of the pataulin risk and do not sell dropped or rotten apples or use them in cider production.”

Theuri warned that patulin is a toxin for which consumers have almost zero tolerance. “Patulin toxins are highest in moldy apples; the more mold growth, the more patulin toxin. Fruit quality must be a top priority when selecting fruit for sale or processing,” he said.

Theuri said that the warm spring season prompted apple trees to begin budding earlier than usual. Immediately following the warm spell in March, multiple freezes in April damaged many of the buds. Then in July, drought conditions hampered most of the remaining production. All of these factors contributed to this year’s smaller harvest – 14 percent lower than the 2011 crop.

Taking into account supply and demand, Banks says to expect to pay higher prices for locally grown apples this year.