By Dr. Mark Corey, NCA Director of Science & Policy
Over the past few years, cold brew has exploded in popularity. According to the Spring 2022 National Coffee Data Trends survey, the number of people drinking cold brew has doubled since 2016. While cold brew isn’t a new preparation method by any means, its newfound ubiquity calls for a clear voice on cold brew safety and preparation. That’s why the National Coffee Association has created the Cold Brew Safety Guide for Retailers, the newest addition to our Cold Brew Toolkit.
First, we should be very clear: Cold brew is perfectly safe when prepared, stored, and served properly. However, food safety and complying with myriad local, state, and federal health regulations is not an area suited to guesswork. Understanding the risks associated with mishandled food and the steps necessary to mitigate those risks is the responsibility of any food service establishment. The potential for foodborne illness that can result in sick customers, product recalls, and a damaged reputation makes our safety guide an absolute necessity for retailers that serve cold brew.
Foodborne illness and cold brew: What are the risks?
The main concern that health inspectors have regarding cold brew is the potential growth of bacteria. Health inspectors may be looking for a range of pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli), Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria), Salmonella spp. (Salmonella), Staphylococcus aureus (Staph), and Bacillus cereus. However, while limited microbial challenge study data in cold brew also exists for these organisms, the researchers at Oregon State University also showed that cold brew significantly inhibited the growth of these pathogens. (Plus, NCA is commissioning our own microbial challenge study to be provided free of charge to NCA members. There’s never been a better time to join NCA.
The primary source of danger in mishandled cold brew is theoretically the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (C. bot.) which causes botulism to grow and produce toxin. Botulism is a potentially deadly disease that can occur when the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (C. bot.) and its toxin are consumed in a contaminated food. It can grow under the conditions of low-acid pH and high-water activity in an airtight container with low oxygen. Canned, bottled, or kegged cold brew could theoretically present the right conditions for botulism to occur.
Again, cold brew is safe when proper protocols are followed. The aim of the Cold Brew Safety Guide for Retailers is, ultimately, to help cold brew retailers be knowledgeable, prepared, and confident regarding food safety and compliance requirements for their dispensed cold brew products. This can help protect the health and safety of consumers and assist retailers in their next health inspection from state and local authorities.
The NCA Cold Brew Safety Guide for retailers was made possible with support from BUNN.