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Death Wish Coffee pulls ‘Nitro’ because of botulism risk

Less than two months after it hit retail shelves, Death Wish Coffee Co. is recalling “Nitro Cold Brew” beverage, ceasing production and changing its manufacturing process because it may have allowed deadly botulin toxin to develop in the product.

The Round Lake, NY, company launched online sales of the beverage on Feb. 2, billing it as the latest “World’s Strongest Coffee” in the Death Wish Coffee line of extra-caffeinated beverages. The “nitrogen-infused” coffee debuted in retail stores about six weeks ago.

Coffee company officials told Food Safety News on Wednesday that they have been consulting with the Process Authority at Cornell University for the past three and a half months regarding the possibility that their processing could lead to the growth of Clostridium botulinum in the Nitro Cold Brew. The company did not, however, comment on what specifically spurred the internal investigation.

“We strive to have the best product possible. We voluntarily sent the product to the specialists at Cornell as a safety net to protect our customers and make sure they were receiving a top notch nitro brew,” said Alyssa Hardy, content manager for Death Wish Coffee.

“Mike Brown, our CEO and founder is extremely meticulous when it comes to the products we put out, so we have them tested. He decided to do the additional testing as a precautionary measure, and as it turns out, we’re glad we did.”

Recall notices posted on the company website and the Food and Drug Administration website offered similar explanations. The recall of the 11-ounce cans of Nitro Cold Brew includes product sold at retail and via the internet.

“We just started selling at stores about six weeks ago — there were 3,360 cans sent to stores — and all of the Death Wish Nitro product has been recalled at this time,” Hardy said.

“Every single person who has purchased Death Wish Nitro since we launched it has been sent an email informing them of the recall, the risks and that they will receive their money back via a mailed check.”

No confirmed illnesses
The company’s recall notice says as of Wednesday, no confirmed illnesses had been reported in connection with the Nitro Bold Brew.

“Consumers who have purchased Death Wish Nitro should not consume it and can either dispose of it or return the product to the location with proof of purchase for a full refund,” according to the recall notice.

Hardy said Death Wish has been testing its products for 14 weeks on an ongoing basis. She said the specialists have not found C. botulinum in any of the products. She did not specifically answer whether the pathogen has been found in the company’s production facilities.

Internal investigation
Although the weeks of testing haven’t showed any contamination or “degradation of quality” of the Nitro Cold Brew, CEO Brown decided to halt production and add a step to the manufacturing process.

“In short, it looks like our process wasn’t perfect and we’re excited to revisit it with guidance from some of the most meticulous scientists in the world,” according to a statement on the Death Wish Coffee website.

“… a process specialist has recommended that we add an additional step to our nitro cold brew production process.

“Nitrogen-infused coffee is a fairly new process, in which at the moment, there are few federal standards and regulations through the Food and Drug Administration.”

The company statement said the risk of Clostridium botulinum is something that is present with any nitrogen-based products that are low acid foods commercialized in reduced oxygen packaging.

Advice to consumers
Anyone who has consumed Death Wish Coffee brand Nitro Cold Brew and developed symptoms of botulism poisoning should immediately seek medical treatment. The toxins paralyzes muscles, including those used for breathing, which can quickly become life threatening. Most victims require hospitalization and many cannot breath without ventilator support.

Also, anyone who has consumed the beverage in the past couple of weeks should monitor themselves because it can take up to 10 days after exposure for the symptoms to develop. Symptoms can develop in as few as six hours, but usually show up 18 to 36 hours after exposure, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Food contaminated with the bacteria that produces the botulin toxin does not look or smell bad. The contamination cannot be identified without laboratory testing.

People with botulism may not show all of these symptoms at once. The symptoms of botulism poisoning in adults include:

  • double vision;
  • blurred vision;
  • drooping eyelids;
  • slurred speech;
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • a thick-feeling tongue;
  • dry mouth; and
  • muscle weakness.

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