Are there mycotoxins in coffee?

Mycotoxins and Green Coffee

Good news for fun guys (& gals)
Posted on February 27th 2015 by Maddie

There are many health benefits linked to coffee including lower risk of serious diseases and even longer life spans. However, as many studies as there are which promote advantageous aspects of the drink, there are claims of adverse effects.

Recently there has been a buzz about potentially harmful contaminants called Mycotoxins being found in green coffee. We touched on this in our previous entry on Bulletproof Coffee. The founder Dave Asprey has pushed his ‘Upgraded Coffee’ declaring it to be toxin free. As a result it has led to speculation whether other green coffee must then contain these fungal properties.

No different than other food products, there are many variables from growing to harvesting to packaging that can affect coffee’s quality. Mycotoxins can be a factor in the production of green coffee. Therefore, industry standards and procedures have been created in order to mitigate these health concerns from our food supply chain.

From the Farmer to the Roaster there is a mutual desire to produce the best product possible. The quality of green beans is integrally linked to sale value and it is not in the best interest to produce moldy products or contaminated coffee.

Conscious decisions are made on how we procure our green beans and there are intensive measures ensuring what we receive meets our high standards. But, before we get into our Quality Control process at Kicking Horse® Coffee, let’s get some more background on Mycotoxins.

What are Mycotoxins?

Since Mycotoxins are a fungi and most fungi are aerobic they are found almost everywhere in extremely small quantities. The reasons for the production of Mycotoxins are not yet known.

What we do know is that Mycotoxins are toxic chemical products which are produced from molds which grow on agricultural crops. In general, high moisture content, high relative humidity, and warm temperatures enhance mold growth and toxin production.

There are more than 300 known Mycotoxins. All of which have different chemical structures and differing modes of action.

What other agricultural commodities are Mycotoxins found in?

Mycotoxins occur in a wide variety of foods such as, corn, peanuts, cottonseed, wheat, barley, cocoa and tree nuts. And, have been also found in rice, beer and wine. Chocolate, raisins, peanuts and wheat seem especially prone to contamination.

Mycotoxins and Green Coffee

There are two Mycotoxins associated with Coffee:

Ochratoxin A

Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a secondary metabolite produced by several species of Aspergillus and Penicillium. It is a Mycotoxin found in coffee as well as grains (especially wheat), spices, grapes, fruit, and beer – Ochratoxin A can be transmitted to meat and eggs as well by contaminated feed.

Interesting fact, Ochratoxin A has also been found in human breast milk.

Aflatoxin B1

A known carcinogen and has been shown to have various harmful effects in large doses. I read up on this carcinogen, but I got lost in the technical translation. Let me know if any of you can make sense of it.

Are Mycotoxins poisonous?

These natural toxins can cause poisoning, but only when too much is ingested.

What is too much?

In Europe, where they have very strict regulations on food imports, the European Food Safety Authority set a weekly intake limit of Mycotoxins. Interesting to know the tolerable level equates to 120 nanograms (one billionth of a gram!) per kg body weight. The general population weekly exposure from various sources (coffee included) is well below this level, as it’s between 15 and 60 ng per kg.

Mycotoxin Regulations in North America

Mycotoxin levels in food are tightly regulated. Canada and the United States have had Mycotoxin regulations in place for many years. Health Canada monitors the food supply for the natural toxins.

Mycotoxin Prevention

Most mold is naturally occurring. It can be difficult to prevent contact with agriculture commodities as it’s found in soil and air. Yet there is an ability to control variables that affect growth of toxins.

The factors that contribute to the production of Mycotoxins in green coffee can include processing and storage. Careful monitoring of green coffee post harvesting can eliminate opportunity for Mycotoxins production. These are standard practices.

If green coffee did contain Mycotoxins, they would be well reduced during the roasting process. Once roasted, if there are Mycotoxins present in coffee they should be way below the safety limit.

A study from the book, Coffee: Physiology, showed Ochratoxin A being 80-90% degraded during the roasting process after it was added to a test sample of green coffee. Alfatoxin B1 was not even found in the coffee after roasting at 220⁰C (425 F). The conclusion was that the possibility of a cup of roasted coffee still containing Mycotoxins is extremely low.

The effects of Mycotoxins

It’s hard to find studies linking Mycotoxins found in coffee to definitive negative health effects. This could be because of the low level found, but the more I read about Mycotoxins it seems apparent that they effect individuals differently.

It is well worth mentioning that since green coffee is only one of many agricultural products that Mycotoxins are found in, you then must have to consider the cumulative effect of a person’s overall diet. Not to mention air quality! Mycotoxins are not only ingested, but also inhaled as well.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), we don’t live in bubbles. There are a plethora of chemicals, regulated and unregulated, that we are exposed to not only in our food, but in our environment that can contribute to our overall health.

Kicking Horse® Coffee's Quality Control

Here at the Horse, we have intensive Quality Control procedures including thorough green bean analysis, roasted sampling and independent lab testing. We do our best to ensure we source coffee that is free of Mycotoxins. As well, organoleptic examinations are performed multiple times as our coffee travels through our supply chain.

All of our green beans are handpicked and carefully processed at source. We regularly visit the cooperatives where our coffee comes from and collaborate on these quality standards. We’re also fortunate in our location, not only is Invermere B.C. a beautiful setting, but also it is not very humid. With low relative humidity we have a great ability to minimize potential contaminants.

For your own curiosity, we regularly send our beans to be analyzed at an independent laboratory and 100% of the time the results have been negative for any molds, bacteria, and yeast.

"The Dose makes the Poison"

I’m a fan of moderation, I mean too much of anything can have undesirable effects.

There are so many variables at play in our lives it would be hard to single out coffee or any other agricultural product as being the sole cause. However, personal experience should be worth something. The best advice is listen to your body. If there are some coffees that leave you feeling awful, but you’ve found one you can enjoy, then the choice is obvious. We can sensationalize the presence of Mycotoxins in coffee production, but you can just as soon do that with everything in your life.

To sum up I read the best conclusion from R.J. Clarke and R. Macrae in their book, Coffee: Physiology, "Mycotoxins have sometimes been associated with coffee: here again their importance should not be dramatized as they do not present an undue toxicological hazard with the good manufacturing practices normally encountered in coffee production."