Student finds potentially elevated levels of arsenic in dining hall apple juice

Bon Appetit and MIT Dining immediately removed product from dining halls

MIT’s dining services provider Bon Appetit swiftly responded this week to a student’s finding that arsenic levels in dining hall apple juice potentially exceed regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bon Appetit is looking into the finding despite its preliminary nature and that it was based off of just a single sample the student examined for a class.  

Francesca Majluf ’17 sent an email to all undergraduate dorms Monday, Nov. 14, reporting that a sample of apple juice from Maseeh Dining Hall had 10.6 parts per billion arsenic, 0.6 ppb more than the level the EPA allows in drinking water.

Majluf conducted mass spectrometry analysis of apple juice samples from several brands around the MIT campus, including Maseeh Dining, for an Applied Environmental Toxicology class at Harvard. The analysis was performed with an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer. A baseline for deionized water was applied before testing apple juice samples, which were also diluted with DI water.

In addition, Majluf found that a sample of apple juice produced by Florida’s Natural Growers had an arsenic level of 11.9 ppb.

Majluf later clarified to the The Tech that she had only tested one sample of each apple juice product. She plans on gathering more data and analyzing the results over Thanksgiving.

Kelly MacDonald, district manager for Bon Appetit catering services, requested Tuesday that all five dining halls recalibrate their juice machines. According to Peter Cummings, executive director of the Division of Student Life, the apple juice product was immediately pulled from the machines the same day and replaced with farm-fresh apple cider.

The apple juice dispenser in McCormick’s dining hall was marked as out of order Wednesday morning. No apple cider, however, was to be found.

After contacting MIT Environment Health and Safety, Cummings confirmed to The Tech that “the water used by MIT from the City of Cambridge is tested regularly and has an arsenic level significantly lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for drinking water.”

Bon Appetit is currently working with their suppliers to find any potential cause for elevated arsenic levels, checking product quality, delivery, and machine function.

“The arsenic in apple juice is usually caused by the grinding of the seeds when preparing the pulp concentrate because apple seeds tend to have naturally-occurring arsenic,” Majluf wrote in an email to Lauren Patterson, general manager of Bon Appetit. “Also, this was a preliminary test with one sample for a class, which means it’s hardly evidence for a major issue.”

Students can email with any dining-related questions or concerns.