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Juice labels require a careful reading

Help is on the way, but it is still a juice-labeling jungle out there. Until autumn 1992, when manufacturers are required to disclose on the label the percentage of real juice in a product, you will have to become a detective to decode the Madison Avenue doubletalk.

The following clues come from the Florida Department of Citrus and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit consumer group:

The words "100 percent pure" or "100 percent juice" on the label ensure that you are getting only pure fruit juice, not a diluted juice beverage that is pumped up with sweeteners and expanded with water.

Products labeled "100 percent real juice" can be misleading. This term means only that the juice in the product is real, but it doesn't mean that it contains 100 percent fruit juice.

Although the percentage of juice does not have to be disclosed on the label, you can get an idea of how much juice is in the product by looking at the ingredient label. Manufacturers and food processors are required to list ingredients in descending order of their predominance. This means juice should be listed in the top of the ingredient list. If water or corn syrup is before the juice, you have a diluted juice product. The one exception: If the juice is made from concentrate, the water needs to be added to make a drinkable product.

Beware of the "juicy" product names. If a product uses the words juice cocktail, juice punch, juice drink, juice sparkler, juice blend or beverage, it is a diluted juice product. These products may cost as much or more than 100 percent fruit juice but can contain as little as 10 percent juice. The rest of the volume is taken up with sweeteners, artificial colors and flavors and water.

A juice ingredient may not be juice at all. Commonly, products such as fruit sparklers contain grape or apple juices that have been stripped or decharacterized.

Some manufacturers remove all the colors and flavors from these juices, transforming them into the equivalent of sugar water. These so-called juices, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, can no longer be considered juice, but you will never know that they have been stripped by reading the label.