Mycotoxins in My Coffee: Is it safe?

The Controversy and Concerns of Mycotoxins in Coffee

Coffee, often regarded as the elixir of life for many, has recently found itself at the center of a controversy surrounding mycotoxins. These naturally occurring compounds produced by certain molds have raised concerns about their presence in coffee and other food products. While it is very important to address these concerns and understand the facts, it is equally crucial to navigate through the sea of sensationalism and fear-driven marketing tactics that can distort the reality.

In this article, we will delve into the truth about mycotoxins in coffee, explore their presence in other foods, examine established safety limits, and shed light on the average coffee consumption in America.

Understanding Mycotoxins: A Natural Occurrence in Foods

Mycotoxins are toxic secondary metabolites produced by molds under specific environmental conditions. These compounds can be found in a wide variety of agricultural products, including grains, nuts, fruits, and yes, coffee. However, it is important to note that mycotoxin presence does not automatically equate to a health risk. The key lies in understanding safe levels and the measures taken to mitigate potential risks.

As London based food scientist Natalie Alibrandi says regarding reasonable coffee consumption: "The levels of mold in coffee are such a small quantity that they do not cause much concern (1)." 

Additionally, it is no secret that mycotoxins do exist in coffee, and are extremely dangerous at very high levels, however, a large study from Spain shows the levels found in our favorite hot beverage are too low to pose much risk for most healthy people. The study states: "the results show that coffee intake does not represent a potential risk for consumers with respect to individual mycotoxin contamination (2)." 

Safety Limits Established by Expert Organizations

Several reputable organizations have established safety limits and/or suggestions for mycotoxins in food products, including coffee. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are among the key regulatory bodies that have set guidelines to ensure consumer safety.

The FDA has established a regulatory limit of 20 parts per billion (ppb) for total aflatoxins, a specific type of mycotoxin, in coffee (3). Similarly, the EFSA has set maximum limits for several mycotoxins in various food categories, including coffee. For instance, the limit for ochratoxin A, another mycotoxin, is set at 3 ppb for roasted coffee beans (4).

The Role of Marketing in the Mycotoxin Coffee Scare

In recent years, we have witnessed a surge in marketing campaigns exploiting consumers' concerns about mycotoxins in coffee. These fear-driven tactics often magnify the potential risks without providing a balanced perspective.

Sometimes it's also just as simple as not understanding the full scope from a scientific perspective. As Dr. John Leslie, Plant Pathologist, explains: "Experts in communications also have a difficult time with the mycotoxin issue because they lack the technical background to understand the causes, consequences and potential remedies associated with mycotoxin contamination (5)." 

He also states: "Mycotoxins in developed countries are a significant food safety issue that is reasonably well controlled. Regulatory checks at levels from grain elevators to in-house company checks usually identify contaminated lots and ensure that mycotoxins in both human foods and animal feeds do not exceed regulatory guidelines (5)."

General Warfield's Coffee: Prioritizing Consumer Safety

At General Warfield's Coffee, we understand the importance of addressing consumer concerns and providing a transparent perspective. We are committed to taking every measure we can to reduce potential and/or perceived risks no matter how large or small they may be. From good agricultural practice, to careful storage conditions, to stringent quality control processes, to sourcing beans from reputable suppliers, and so on, we prioritize consumer safety and concern without compromising the rich flavors and aromas our customers adore.

*For the record, all of our coffees are roasted and packaged in a state-of-the-art FDA registered and approved facility that follows very strict cGMP guidelines. 

Average Coffee Consumption in America: Trust the Numbers

Coffee has become an integral part of the American lifestyle, with millions enjoying their daily cup of joe. On average, Americans consume approximately 3 cups of coffee per day, according to the National Coffee Association (6).

To put the mycotoxin safety limits into perspective, let's consider an 8-ounce cup of coffee. Assuming the safety limit of 3 ppb (roasted beans) for ochratoxin A. established by the EFSA, and an average ochratoxin A. concentration of 0.5 ppb per cup, a person would need to consume 6 cups of coffee to reach the safety limit. It is important to note that these numbers are significantly higher than the average consumption of coffee per person per day, highlighting that the potential risk posed by mycotoxins in coffee is minimal for most healthy individuals.

Promoting a Balanced Perspective: Following the Science

Dr. Emma Patterson, a respected nutritionist, emphasizes the importance of a balanced perspective when considering mycotoxins in coffee. "While mycotoxins do exist in coffee, it is crucial to understand that their levels are typically low and pose little to no threat to healthy individuals. Rather than being consumed by fear, we should focus on a diverse and balanced diet as part of an overall healthy lifestyle."

What's the Verdict? 

The verdict: it is safe to drink coffee for most healthy individuals.

Despite the presence of mycotoxins, the levels found in coffee are typically low and within acceptable limits set by regulatory authorities such as the FDA and EFSA. It is crucial to be aware of mycotoxins, but not fall prey to fear-driven marketing campaigns and sensationalism.

Additionally, companies like General Warfield’s Coffee pay particular attention to the beans selected, the processing, storage conditions, handling, packaging and roast in an FDA registered and approved facility with strict cGMP policies in place. 

We've all been eating food and drinks containing mycotoxins our entire lives without knowing it (until now). The fungi that produce these toxins are literally everywhere, but for most relatively healthy people there's nothing to stress about when consuming foods or coffee within reasonable moderation.

It all comes down to personal risk assessment and hopefully sound judgment. The science says the health risks associated with mycotoxins in coffee are very small for most people. In fact, based on countless studies, the health benefits far outweigh most risks associated with coffee consumption. 

Remember, coffee, when enjoyed in moderation, can be part of a very healthy lifestyle, and concerns surrounding mycotoxins should be kept in perspective. Let's prioritize science and informed decision-making over fear and sensationalism.

Either way, we hope you enjoyed this article and are eating great food and/or drinking a delicious cup of hot coffee, tea, etc. We also hope you're happily enjoying your time without worry. Cheers! 






2. Analysis of mycotoxins in coffee and risk assessment in Spanish adolescents and adults A. García-Moraleja et al. Food Chem Toxicol. 2015 Dec.

3.  Aflatoxins: Implications on Health  Usha P. Sarma,corresponding author1 Preetida J. Bhetaria,2 Prameela Devi,1 and Anupam Varma 2017 Jun; 32(2): 124–133. Published online 2017 Mar 28. doi: 10.1007/s12291-017-0649-2 | PUBMED |




5. Perspective: Talking About Mycotoxins John F. Leslie and Jerrey B. Morris, Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 11 December 2019, Sec. Agro-Food Safety
Volume 3 - 2019



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