Though consuming foods with high levels of those mycotoxins can make you sick in some instances, the chances of that occurring are extremely rare. In light of providing reassurance around a topic that can sound more concerning than it actually is, we spoke with three experts—a registered dietitian, a medical doctor, and a food scientist—who shared their take on whether or not coffee contains harmful levels of mold and why finding mold in store-bought coffee beans won’t happen in most cases.
Does all coffee contain harmful levels of mold?
According to Christina Manian, RDN, a Boulder-based registered dietitian and sustainable food systems professional, mycotoxins are toxins commonly found in various foods, including coffee. “These toxins are actually mold or fungi that can grow on food before or after harvest or during storage in damp conditions,” Manian says. “When consumed in high amounts, mycotoxins can cause serious illness and organ damage, depending on the kind of toxin and severity of the case.” It’s important to note that cooking can’t completely destroy these mycotoxins.
That said, the FDA has many steps in place that regulate and monitor food supply chains to prevent and reduce the risk of contamination. What’s more, not all coffee contains harmful levels of mold. On the contrary, a food scientist and medical doctor agree that there isn’t too much cause for concern, especially if the levels are low. “The levels of mold in coffee are such a small quantity that they do not cause much concern,” says Natalie Alibrandi, a London-based food scientist and CEO of Nali Consulting. Meanwhile, research further supports this notion. “A study done in Poland demonstrated that even at the highest level found in instant coffee, the levels would be in a safe range,” says Caroline Cederquist, MD, a board-certified physician and founder and chief medical officer of BistroMD.
“A study done in Poland demonstrated that even at the highest level found in instant coffee, the levels would be in a safe range.” —Caroline Cederquist, MD, board-certified physician
How to avoid overexposure to high levels of mycotoxins
Like most things in life, it’s a good idea to consume coffee (or other foods that also contain this type of mold) in relative moderation to avoid overexposure to high levels of mycotoxins… as well as caffeine, saus Dr. Cederquist. “Coffee is not the only food with mycotoxins—they can also be found in foods like grains and peanuts—and they are certainly not something that is listed on a nutrition label. So I might have concerns if someone was having an excessive amount of coffee or any one food group. Something like four double espressos every day, for instance, would be considered high-level exposure and may increase the risk,” Dr. Cederquist says.
That said, studies indicate that your method of coffee brewing can potentially decrease mycotoxin levels. Roasting beans and brewing methods that expose your coffee to hot water for long periods of time were found to be a few of the most effective ways to help reduce levels of ochratoxin A, a mycotoxin produced by certain Aspergillus and Penicillium molds, which is most commonly found in coffee.
Roasting beans and brewing methods that expose your coffee to hot water for long periods of time were found to be a few of the most effective ways to help reduce levels of ochratoxin A, a mycotoxin.
How to store coffee to prevent mold growth
There are a few additional ways to help prevent mold from releasing the byproduct of mycotoxin. For starters, Alibrandi says that proper storage conditions—like airtight containers—are key. “Coffee, unfortunately, has a higher risk of developing mold due to the locations the beans are grown. These locations are usually hot and humid. Proper storage in dark and cool places along with roasting helps prevent mold growth,” Alibrandi says.
Additionally, performing visual inspections—while not fully effective—can help indicate the presence of mold. “While they can penetrate deep into food, many of these toxins will be visible on food, so inspecting foods that are susceptible to mycotoxins, like nuts and grains, for the appearance of any mold or spoilage is a great way to prevent accidental consumption,” Manian says. Meanwhile, Alibrandi adds that if you notice mold on your coffee beans, it’s best to toss them out to err on the side of caution.
An RD shares the benefits of drinking coffee: