Home Health Can You Get Food Poisoning From Coffee? A Complete Guide
Can You Get Food Poisoning From Coffee

Can You Get Food Poisoning From Coffee? A Complete Guide

by zilvinas.juraska

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, with billions of cups consumed every day. For many people, it’s an essential part of their morning routine. However, some may wonder – can drinking coffee make you sick? Can you get food poisoning from coffee?

The short answer is yes, it is possible to get food poisoning from coffee if it becomes contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens. However, the risk is generally low, especially if proper precautions are taken during preparation and storage. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at how foodborne illness could occur with coffee and steps you can take to prevent it.

How Coffee Can Become Contaminated

There are a few ways that coffee can become contaminated and lead to food poisoning:

  • Improper bean handling and processing – Coffee beans may be exposed to contaminants during farming, harvesting, processing, transportation or storage. This includes contact with human hands, rodents, insects, or other vectors that may transmit pathogens. Proper drying, packing, and storage methods help reduce this risk.
  • Infected water – Coffee beans are washed during processing, and the water used may contain harmful bacteria or other contaminants if not properly treated. The finished coffee beverage is also composed mostly of water. Using contaminated water to brew coffee increases illness risk.
  • Poor personal hygiene – Baristas, servers, and home brewers may transmit pathogens through hand contact, coughing/sneezing, or other unhygenic practices while preparing coffee. This points to the importance of handwashing.
  • Cross-contamination – Coffee equipment, utensils, and serving containers can spread bacteria and viruses if not properly washed between uses. Milk, creamers, sweeteners, and other add-ins can also introduce contamination.
  • Temperature abuse – Brewed coffee left sitting out too long before consumption can allow microbial growth. This is especially true for lukewarm or room temperature coffee. Proper temperature control is needed.
  • Ingredients – Added ingredients like flavored syrups, milk/cream, chocolate or caramel sauce, whipped cream, etc. can harbor pathogens if made under unsanitary conditions. Safe ingredient sourcing and storage is key.

So in summary, there are many points along the coffee production and consumption pathway where improper practices may allow contaminants to enter the final beverage. This emphasizes the need for proper food safety protocols.

Common Causes of Coffee-Borne Illness

If contaminated coffee does lead to food poisoning, what are the likely culprits? Here are some of the main bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins that may be transmitted through coffee:

  • Salmonella – This bacterium is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. It can be introduced through contaminated water, poor hygiene, or infected add-ins like milk.
  • E. coli – Escherichia coli is another bacterial source of foodborne illness. It’s spread through fecal contamination. Raw bean handling is a risk factor.
  • Staphylococcus aureus – S. aureus causes staph food poisoning. The bacteria is transferred from hands to food. Toxins can form in cream, milk, and syrups.
  • Norovirus – This highly contagious virus causes stomach flu symptoms. It’s easily spread through contaminated water, improper hygiene, etc.
  • Campylobacter – Common in raw poultry, this bacteria can cause diarrhea. It crosses over through unclean equipment or preparation spaces.
  • Clostridium botulinum – C. botulinum causes the potentially fatal botulism poisoning. It grows in low-oxygen environments like vacuum packed coffee beans, producing a lethal toxin. Proper roasting helps reduce the risk by killing the bacteria.
  • Mycotoxins – These toxins are produced by molds, like aflatoxin. Molds can grow on beans, seeds, and grains under certain temperature and humidity conditions.
  • Bacillus cereus – This spore-forming bacteria can survive roasting and contaminate brewed coffee, producing toxins that cause vomiting.

So in summary, the most likely coffee contaminants are staphylococci, Salmonella, E. coli, viruses, and toxins produced by bacteria or molds. Again, this emphasizes the importance of preventive controls throughout coffee production and handling.

Symptoms of Coffee-Induced Food Poisoning

If you do get sick from contaminated coffee, what symptoms might you expect? Depending on the pathogen involved, common signs can include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea – Typical food poisoning symptoms. Can start within hours of drinking contaminated coffee. Caused by bacterial toxins or viruses.
  • Abdominal cramps and pain – Stomachache and intestinal cramping may accompany nausea or diarrhea.
  • Fever – Mild fever is common with bacterial food poisoning.
  • Fatigue and weakness – You may feel tired, rundown, or weak as your body fights infection.
  • Headache – Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacterial illnesses often cause headache.
  • Muscle aches – Possible symptom with some foodborne pathogens.
  • Difficulty seeing or double vision – S. aureus or Bacillus cereus food poisoning can cause neurological symptoms like this.
  • Botulism poisoning – Blurred vision, paralysis, difficulty breathing. Life-threatening emergency!

Depending on the culprit, symptoms may start within hours of drinking contaminated coffee or take a few days to develop. Most cases resolve on their own within a week or less, but dehydration and other complications are possible. Seek medical care if symptoms are severe or bloody stools occur.

Who is at Highest Risk for Coffee Poisoning?

While anyone can get sick from contaminated coffee, certain groups have an increased risk for developing foodborne illness:

  • Young children – Kids’ immune systems are less developed.
  • Older adults – Weakened immunity and underlying conditions make illness more dangerous.
  • Pregnant women – Hormonal changes make pregnant women more susceptible. Some pathogens can affect the fetus.
  • People with chronic illnesses – Conditions like diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, etc. are risk factors.
  • People taking acid reducers – Medications that reduce stomach acid allow pathogens to survive.

So individuals with weaker immune defenses should pay extra attention to coffee safety. They also need to be vigilant regarding symptoms of foodborne illness.

How to Prevent Food Poisoning from Coffee

Now that we’ve seen how coffee can transmit foodborne pathogens, what steps can we take to reduce the risk? Here are some coffee safety tips:

  • Control temperature – Don’t let brewed coffee or water baths for serving containers get too lukewarm. Keep below 140°F.
  • Wash hands thoroughly – Practice good hand hygiene before handling coffee grinds, brewing equipment, mugs, pitchers, carafes, etc.
  • Sanitize utensils – Follow a regular cleaning schedule for coffee makers, pots, grinders, frothers, and other tools.
  • Use clean water – Make sure water meets safety standards. If using well water, consider testing or filtration.
  • Drink coffee soon after brewing – Don’t let it sit at room temperature for extended periods. Discard old coffee.
  • Inspect beans before grinding – Check for signs of mold, moisture, or damage.
  • Store beans properly – Keep beans dry and cool in sealed containers. Don’t use if wet, moldy, or rancid.
  • Don’t reuse old grounds – Used coffee grounds are breeding grounds for bacteria.
  • Avoid cross-contamination – Keep prep areas, grinder, pitchers, carafes, hands, etc. away from raw meat, eggs, and other raw foods.
  • Source safe dairy – Use pasteurized milk and cream. Discard if expired.
  • Don’t drink raw sprouts – Raw sprouts in blended coffee drinks can harbor pathogens.

By following good food safety practices from bean to cup, you can greatly reduce the small risk of getting sick from your daily coffee habit.

Can You Get Food Poisoning from Coffee at Cafes, Shops, or Restaurants?

Buying coffee from a cafe, shop, or restaurant introduces risks from improper food handling and storage by staff. However, your chance of getting sick is still low. Reputable establishments adhere to food codes and hygiene standards to avoid foodborne illness. Tips for safer purchased coffee include:

  • Order from clean, reputable vendors with good inspection scores. Avoid dirty establishments.
  • Check that staff wear gloves when handling food and change gloves regularly.
  • Make sure you see employees washing hands and sanitizing equipment.
  • Opt for single-use containers instead of refillable carafes if you have concerns.
  • Add milk, cream, and sugar yourself rather than having them added by employees.
  • Avoid choosing cafes that leave milk or cream out at room temperature for extended periods.
  • Check for the use of pasteurized dairy products.
  • Ask about or observe their coffee bean and water supply handling practices.
  • Request that your coffee be freshly brewed rather than sitting for a long time.
  • Avoid raw sprouts or juices not made-to-order if offered in blended coffee drinks.

So while you can’t fully control how they operate, you can look for basic food safety practices. Baristas trained in proper technique present less hazard.

Can Reheated or Old Coffee Make You Sick?

Drinking reheated coffee or old coffee that’s been sitting out is unlikely to cause illness on its own, but it may increase the risk slightly.

Here’s why:

  • Bacterial growth – Some pathogens can multiply over time in lukewarm coffee. Old coffee may have higher loads.
  • Toxin production – Bacteria like S. aureus release toxins that aren’t destroyed by reheating.
  • Mold growth – Extended warmth and moisture can promote mold growth.
  • Dilution of acidity – Coffee’s natural acidity inhibits microbial growth. Reheating may dilute this effect.
  • Change in taste – Rancid or spoiled coffee has an “off” taste and aroma. This indicates something is wrong.

To stay safe, avoid drinking coffee that tastes or smells strange. Discard old coffee, especially if it looks slimy or moldy. Brew a fresh pot instead of reheating if possible. Overall, pay attention to coffee’s taste, appearance, and storage time.

When to Seek Medical Care for Coffee Poisoning

In most cases of food poisoning, simply stopping consumption of the contaminated food and resting at home is sufficient. However, seek medical evaluation if you experience:

  • Fever over 101°F
  • Bloody or black stool
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Signs of dehydration – dizziness, dry mouth, rapid heart rate
  • Neurological symptoms like blurred vision
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Symptoms lasting longer than 3 days

Seeking medical care allows doctors to assess your symptoms, diagnose the illness, provide needed fluids/electrolytes, and address any complications. Stool cultures may be used to identify pathogens. Some cases may require hospitalization for close monitoring and treatment.

When foodborne illness is suspected, save a sample of the questionable coffee along with the packaging. Public health officials can test the sample during food poisoning outbreak investigations to identify contamination sources.

The Bottom Line on Coffee and Food Poisoning

While contaminated coffee can lead to foodborne illness on rare occasions, following basic food safety practices helps minimize any risk. Pay attention to hygiene, storage temperatures, water quality, and where you purchase your cup of joe. Look out for signs of spoiled beans or beverages. Most importantly, listen to your body – if coffee tastes or smells “off” to you, it’s best not to drink it.

By being an informed consumer and using proper precautions for preparing coffee at home or choosing where you buy it, you can continue enjoying your regular coffee fix without significant concern about getting sick. After all, few things are harder to give up than that delicious morning cup! As long as you take steps to keep your coffee safe, it will keep you energized and happy.

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