Just look at the difference between a just-picked orange and one that sat around a couple of days. Something magical is gone. That's why Citrus Hill Fresh Choice is picked and squeezed within a day ... to keep that freshness alive ...

The controversy this advertisement started when it first ran on television last spring is still unresolved. Even now, Procter & Gamble, maker of the juice, and a host of critics are still embroiled in a squabble about the advertising and labeling of the product.

Critics are concerned about the advertising of Citrus Hill Fresh Choice because it promotes the oranges as being picked and squeezed on the same day and denigrates oranges that "sat around a couple of days."

This fall, the Florida Citrus Commission wrote a letter to Procter & Gamble expressing several concerns, one of which was that the ads would make consumers think that some processors use "old, inferior, possibly unwholesome fruit" in their products.

Kathy Clay, spokeswoman for the commission, said that most processors pick and squeeze their oranges within two days and questioned the difference a day makes. Although the more time a piece of fruit is away from the tree that provided its source of nutrients, the more likely there will be dehydration, "that generally takes more than one day," said Clay. "We're talking about several weeks."

In addition, Clay questioned how P&G could ensure that all of its oranges are picked and squeezed within a day, particularly since some of the concentrate is imported from Brazil. Like other processors, P&G imports frozen concentrate, since frosts in Florida over the past decade have severely crippled domestic supplies. P&G "still feels they can say they squeeze that orange within a day. There are still processors in the state who seriously question that," Clay added.

Wendy Jacques, spokeswoman for P&G, said that "we've improved our manufacturing process to the point where the vast majority of oranges are picked and squeezed within 24 hours." There are probably some that are squeezed after 24 hours, Jacques admitted, but "the vast majority are well below 24 hours." Jacques added that when the manufacturing process was improved, the changes were made in both the United States as well as Brazil, and that "we are consistently monitoring all processing operations to ensure those standards are being met."

Regardless of the fact that the juice is accented with orange oils and essence to enhance its flavor, and then frozen into concentrate, Jacques said that the company believes that oranges that are picked and squeezed in a day provide juice that tastes fresher.

Last week, in response to its complaint letter, the Florida Citrus Commission received a reply from P&G saying that the advertising does not refer to any competitors, but simply "reflects the way we process oranges." Nonetheless, P&G said although it has not removed the reference, it has "substantially de-emphasized" the visualization of an orange that is more than a day old.

Another big issue is the use of the term "fresh" in the name of the product. Citrus Hill Fresh Choice is sold in cartons in the refrigerated section of supermarkets. It is reconstituted from frozen concentrate.

"With Citrus Hill sitting in the refrigerator next to the juice that the produce guy has just squeezed, people will be legitimately deceived into thinking it {Citrus Hill} is fresh," said Steve Gardner, assistant attorney general for the state of Texas.

And although the words "from concentrate" do appear on the label, the print is orange -- and so is the carton. "The orange-on-orange is not very prominent," said Betsy Woodward, chief of the food laboratory of the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. "The total picture gives the impression that this is a fresh product when it is not."

Jacques said that the company believes its labeling is "fully substantiated." Last spring, P&G changed the name of the product from Citrus Hill Select, and "before proceeding with that change, we carefully reviewed all the regulatory and legal requirements. We believe that Citrus Hill Fresh Choice conforms with all requirements," Jacques said. What's more, Jacques added, the company's market research found no difference in consumer understanding of what the product was whether it was called Fresh Choice or Select.

In 1989, before Procter & Gamble renamed and repackaged its product, Citrus Hill was a firm third in orange juice sales, trailing No. 1 Tropicana and second-place Minute Maid by a substantial gap, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York-based market research and consulting firm.

Competitors are concerned that Procter & Gamble is confusing the orange juice category and attempting to "leapfrog" the premium products, according to Harris Cutler, general counsel of Coca-Cola Foods, owner of Minute Maid. Minute Maid Premium Choice is one of a growing number of premium orange juices that are pasteurized, but not made from concentrate. They are also sold in the refrigerated section of grocery stores.

"If frozen concentrate can be called fresh, what in the category is not fresh? What does that do to companies that want to come out with a fresh-squeezed or a pasteurized brand? Do you join and call everything fresh?" asked Cutler.

In fact, Procter & Gamble has cast that answer in a different light to defend its use of the name Fresh Choice. "There are dozens of other juices and juice beverages using the word 'fresh' in their brand name," said Jacques. "We believe it's unfair for our brand to be singled out and thrust into this controversy. We will vigorously defend our position."

But Texas's Gardner doesn't buy the defense. "It's sad that industry leaders like P&G would go along with the crowd and use that as an excuse for deception," he said. "The big guys set the standards. Those are the guys who deserve to be gone after." Gardner analogized the situation to when he was a child and he wanted to do something against parental wishes. The argument he'd use was always "But Daddy, all the other kids' dads let them do it."

The debate over the use of the word "fresh" is the latest in a series of "fresh" claims made by manufacturers on product labels and in advertisements.

Of continuing controversy is Ragu Foods Inc.'s Fresh Italian pasta sauces, a line of jarred sauces. Last April, the Food and Drug Administration cited the Connecticut-based company for six violations in connection with its product line. The state of Texas also threatened to impound the product if appropriate label changes were not made.

Current FDA compliance guidelines prohibit the use of the word "fresh" to describe foods that have been subject to any form of chemical or heat processing. Jarred tomato sauces undergo heat processing. As far as frozen, reconstituted and pasteurized orange juices, FDA has specifically ruled that it is inappropriate to use the word "fresh," according to a Washington food industry lawyer.

At the time, Ragu Foods acknowledged that its sauce is heat processed but denied that the label was misleading. A spokeswoman for the company said that the term "fresh" is part of the product's trade name, which the company believed exempted it from the government's policy regarding heat-processed foods.

Although the company does not believe its original label was violative, Ragu did agree to modify it. The product is now called Ragu Fresh Italian Brand pasta sauce, and the qualifier "means fresh taste" appears near the name. The changes were accepted by the state of Texas, but not by FDA.

Still, critics are getting impatient with FDA's seeming inability to enforce the law. Although the agency did cite Ragu for "false and misleading" labeling, it has not taken any further action against the company. Agency officials have met with Procter & Gamble, but no formal action, such as sending a warning letter, has been taken.

"If the FDA is going to show us it's an effective agency, it should follow up on its threats," said Linda Golodner, executive director of the National Consumers League.

FDA spokesman Chris Lecos denied that the agency is "dragging its feet." Lecos said that FDA will most likely be officially defining the term "fresh" as part of the agency's new nutrition labeling law, which Congress passed this fall. Part of the law requires FDA to define label descriptors such as "light," "high" and "low."

Texas's Gardner believes that in comparing tomatoes with oranges, the case against Citrus Hill is far more egregious. Ragu' may have disrupted "definitional purity" with its name Fresh Italian, he said, "but who in their right mind will be deceived that a jar of tomato sauce sitting warm on the grocery shelf is fresh?"