The Story of Florida Orange Juice

From the Grove to Your Glass

by

Chet Townsend


This web page describes, with pictures, how Florida oranges are
harvested and processed into 100% pure Florida orange juice.

(Click on any of the thumbnail pictures below, or hypertext within the story,
to view a larger picture, then use your Back Button to return to this page.)


In Florida, most oranges bloom in March-April. The "early" varieties, such as Hamlins and Parson Browns, reach maturity in October through January. The "mid-season" varieties such as the Pineapple Orange reach maturity in December-February. "Late season" varieties such as the Valencia matures from March-June.

All citrus , including oranges, must ripen on the tree. Citrus does not ripen once removed from the tree. Grove managers take representative samples of oranges from a particular block of trees, about 40 pieces of fruit for a 40 acre block. The juice is squeezed from the sample fruit and the juice is tested for two main attributes -- brix and acid. From these two attributes, the sugar:acid ratio, which determines the flavor of the juice, is determined. Juice must meet minimum standards in order for it to be sold as 100% Florida Orange Juice.

The brix content (mostly soluble sugars) is determined using a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity, which is converted to degrees brix. Then, using a titration method, the percent acid is determined using sodium hydroxide and a phenolphthalein indicator. The ratio of the brix to the acid content can then be calculated. The minimum maturity for oranges varies during the season, but generally it is a minimum of 8.50 brix with a 10.00 to 1 ratio. Many juice processing plants will have even higher minimum maturity standards.

Once a block is determined ready for harvest, a crew of harvesters is sent to pick the entire block of fruit by hand, using wooden ladders and canvas pick sacks. In Florida, almost 96% of all oranges are harvested by hand. Since 1999, the industry has been harvesting a portion of the processed orange crop with mechanical harvesters. The three types of machines being used commercial are the continuous canopy shake and catch system, the trunk shake and catch system, and the tractor-drawn continuous canopy shaker. During this time, over 90,000 acres have been mechanically harvested, all at a savings versus hand harvesting. The pickers dump the fruit into plastic tubs that hold approximately 900 pounds of oranges. A special truck, called a "goat", will then come through the grove and, using a hydraulic boom, pick up the tub and dump it into the back of the goat into a special body. Most mechanically harvested fruit is harvested directly into a goat. The goat then goes outside the block of trees and the body raises up and dumps it's load of oranges into a large open tractor-trailer that holds about 45,000 pounds of oranges. A truck-tractor then hauls the trailer to the processing plant.

Hand harvesting oranges

Dumping full bag into a tub

Full tub of oranges

Mechanical Tree Shaker

A fruit loader or "goat"

Dumping tub into the goat

Goat dumping oranges
into a waiting trailer

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At the processing plant, the trailer load of oranges is weighed on scales in order to determine the weight of fruit received, which will be used to base the payment to the grower. The trailer of oranges is then unloaded onto a conveyor belt. From this belt, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) takes a representative sample to test it for juice content and maturity, and to certify the pounds solids per box (the unit that growers' payment is based upon). The fruit is then diverted to storage bins labeled according to the juice specification as determined by FDACS. Oranges are then selected from the bins to enable blending of optimal quality. The fruit is conveyed by belt through a washing process.Then it enters into the processing plant where it is graded for bad or damaged fruit. The fruit is then separated by size and sent to the juice extractors. Inside the extractors, before juicing, the peel is pricked to extract the oils found in the peel, then the juice is extracted.

Full orange trailers on
processing plant's yard

Unloading orange trailers

Orange storage bins

The oranges are washed

Then graded

Then juiced in the extractors


The pulpy juice next goes through a finisher (screen) where the pulp and seeds are removed, which, along with the peel, is diverted to be used for by-products, such as cattle feed. From this point, the juice may either go directly into a pasteurizer in the case of Not From Concentrate (NFC), or it goes on to the evaporators where most of the water is taken out of the juice by vacuum and heat, then chilled, to yield frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ). This process also strips out certain essences and oils. The concentrated juice, about 65░ brix, is then piped to the tank farm where concentrate is stored at about +10░ F, separated by variety and ratio (brix to acid) range.

The finishers or screens

.

The peel/pulp dryer for
cattle feed

The Waste Heat Evaporator

The evaporators; removes
water from the juice

Juice is being concentrated

100,000 gal. stainless
tanks of FCOJ


When ready to ship frozen orange concentrate to a customer, such as a juice packager, the concentrate is blended from the various tanks to meet the specifications of the customer and meet USDA requirements. Essences and oils (recovered in the processing process) are also added back to enhance the flavor. This blending process is how juice made from concentrate, FCOJ, has a more consistent quality year round than fresh juice or NFC. The FCOJ (at about 65░ brix) is either put into 55-gallon drums and shipped in a refrigerated truck, or is loaded onto a special food-grade insulated tanker truck and delivered to a packaging plant. (Some Florida processing plants also have packaging plants at the same site. Many dairies around the country also package orange juice using the same equipment used to package milk). To make cans of frozen concentrate, filtered water is added back to bring the brix level down to 42░ (about 3 times more concentrated than fresh juice). For chilled reconstituted (recon) ready-to-serve (RTS) orange juice, filtered water is added to bring the brix down to about 11.8░, the average of fresh squeezed juice. It is then put up into cardboard cartons, glass, or plastic jugs to be sold at the retail store. All FCOJ, Recon, and NFC forms of orange juice are always pasteurized before it reaches the consumer to protect from contamination.

Oil separators/recovery

Insulated food grade tanker

The next and final process is for you to pour yourself a tall refreshing glass of 100% pure Florida orange juice and drink it all up!

100% Pure Florida

"Florida Orange Juice: Have you had enough today?"

View the latest in Mechanical Harvesters

UF-IFAS Citrus Mechanical Harvesting Program website

Vitamin C and Citrus Juices - All you wanted to know about vitamin C.
See the World's Largest Glass of Florida Orange Juice!

The Orange Book - Order this excellent book online!


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Copyrightę 1996 - 2012 by Chet Townsend. No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise - without the express written permission of the author. To request permission, send e-mail to chet@ultimatecitrus.com.