Yesterday was National Iced Tea Day.
When I was growing up, my mom brewed her iced tea on the front porch in the sun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls the tea she made “sun tea.”
In 1996, the CDC put out a “Memo on Bacterial Contamination of Iced Tea.” The memo was addressed to state and territorial epidemiologists, and provided information on iced tea safety in response to local and state health department requests for guidelines on preparing and storing iced tea in a manner to reduce bacterial contamination.
Foodborne pathogens can survive in brewed tea, but for tea brewed at an appropriate temperature–with water hot enough to kill pathogens–the issue of safety is primarily one of storage conditions and ensuring the tea dispenser has been cleaned and disinfected before use.
The CDC summarized its findings on iced tea safety with the following points:
1. Tea is a beverage with little history of disease transmission. At present, no outbreaks of infection have been reported to CDC that were clearly associated with the consumption of tea.
2. Tea leaves may be contaminated with coliform bacteria. If iced tea is brewed at inadequate temperatures or in an improperly cleaned urn, or if it is stored for too long, it may grow coliform bacteria, most frequently Klebsiella and Enterobacter, and less commonly E. coli. In particular, the faucet of iced tea urns may provide a nidus for bacterial contamination.
3. Food handling errors that lead to the introduction or that encourage the replication of microbial pathogens in brewed tea could theoretically result in human disease.
4. Brewing iced tea at an appropriate temperature in a thoroughly cleaned urn and limiting the time held at room temperature before serving will minimize the theoretical risk of bacterial contamination.
Recommendations for Iced Tea Safety
* Iced tea sould be brewed at 195 F for 3-5 minutes.
* Iced tea should be stored for no longer than 8 hours.
* The tea brewer, storage dispenser, and faucet should be cleaned daily.
The CDC stated that redesigning tea dispensers to be more easily dismantled and cleaned could further reduce the theoretical risk of bacterial contamination of iced tea.
According to the CDC, “The practice of making ‘sun tea’ by steeping tea bags in a container of water in the sun may be higher theoretical risk than brewing tea at higher temperatures because it provides an environment where bacteria are more likely to survive and multiply.
I’ll have to tell my mom.