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Are There Toxins in Your Coffee?

What you need to know about coffee brewing pods and other plastics in the kitchen.

Multiple cups of coffee, shot from above
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Dear Doctor,

My office has a coffee maker that uses plastic pods, which are so convenient I’m thinking about getting one for my home, too. But I’m worried that all the plastic might not be healthy to use. Is it safe to drink coffee brewed in a plastic pod?

Sincerely,

“Caffeinated and Concerned”

Dear Caffeinated and Concerned:

As a population health specialist, I see two issues that need to be addressed: first is the sheer volume of plastic waste generated with the use of nonrecyclable plastics—coffee and tea pods generally fall into this category. As this waste piles up in landfills, it causes environmental (and eventually human) harm. The second is whether the type of plastic contains any potentially harmful chemicals that can leach into something you’re going to ingest.

The reality is that plastic is impossible to completely avoid. However, I tell people to limit its use whenever possible. Storing food in plastic containers is fine, but heating that plastic creates an opportunity for chemicals to migrate into the food or beverage you plan to put into your body. Studies show that as they accumulate over time, these chemicals may interfere with normal functions of the brain and other organs.

There is not a lot of research on plastic coffee pods yet, but I would imagine the risk is probably fairly low because the hot liquid passes through quickly. That means there is not much time for leaching, which is how most children and adults wind up with chemicals from plastic in their system. Research associates these chemicals with a variety of health concerns, especially in children and newborns (from the heating of plastic bottles).

These coffee pods are convenient and probably safe, but shortcuts always come with shortcomings. If possible, find pods that are made out of compostable materials. Some companies are even making refillable metal or paper coffee pods.

“Storing food in plastic containers is fine, but heating that plastic creates an opportunity for chemicals to migrate into the food or beverage you plan to put into your body.”

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Published July 30th, 2019
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