This is a follow-up to the article that I wrote on the dangers of sun tea, The Dark Side of Sun Tea, this past June. While I still hold that it’s wise to avoid making tea by this method, there is less clear evidence about the topic than I had previously been led to believe. Interestingly, although many sources stated that the Center for Disease Control had published a position that sun tea was unsafe, the CDC itself denies this.
As part of my follow-up research I wrote to the CDC directly, asking for confirmation or denial of their position. This is my email to them:
Subject: Question about Alcaligenes viscolactis in “sun tea”
Dear Sir or Madam, Does the Center For Disease Control have an official policy on “sun tea,” the practice of brewing tea in glass jars set outside in the sun for several hours? Colorado State’s “Safe Food News” states that it is an unsafe practice due to the possible growth of Alcaligenes viscolactis because the water does not reach a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria. There are a lot of anecdotal comments throughout the tea industry and other places that state that the CDC has deemed sun tea as unsafe, including on Snopes.com, but I have been unable to find any clear, reliable statement that this is the case directly from the CDC itself. On my tea blog and as a guest writer on another tea blog I wrote that this was an unsafe practice even if the bacterial risk was not very big. Any information you could provide me would be greatly appreciated. As someone who writes a blog about tea and tea practices I feel an obligation to keep my readership well informed with accurate and scientifically verifiable information. This is an issue that has conflicting and incomplete information, at least in what I have been able to find so far. I hold that it is unwise to make sun tea due to the risk of bacteria, but I would like some additional official support (or denial) for this position.
I couple of weeks later I received a brief, but informative response from a Public Affairs representative for the CDC:
The short answer is, we don’t know. I circulated your query and so far none of our scientists have either worked or are familiar with anyone who has conducted research on this topic. I will keep you posted if I find out anything new…
Arleen Porcell-Pharr, MS, APR
Public Affairs Specialist
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, GA 30333
I appreciate the CDC taking the time to respond to my inquiry, and I find it quite curious that so many people were citing studies and/or an official CDC policy statement that simply does not exist. The other curious thing about this is that Snopes.com, which exists entirely for the purpose of debunking misinformation and confirming accurate information, was one of the sources citing the CDC’s findings that sun tea was unsafe. I contacted Snopes.com for a response to this as well, but received no response from them.
Regardless of all of the confusion, there’s no good reason to continue to make tea outdoors in the sunshine when cold-brewing is safer and results in tea that tastes as good or better. Good quality Ceylon teas work particularly well for this. But the jury is still out on whether sun tea can be proven to be unsafe scientifically – or even anecdotally. It seems unlikely that any studies will be done to confirm or deny this any time soon.
There is an additional article available on TeaGeek.net on this topic and the unreliability of information sources that you may want to read also.
Check out Gongfu Girl’s blog for more informative articles!
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