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Bacteria in Sun Tea

If you are craving a cold glass of iced tea to cope with the summer heat, you might want to think again. As it turns out, the sun can only raise the temperature inside your brewing container to a maximum of 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that can make you sick.

Alcaligenes viscolactis, the bacteria found in your tap water, can live through temperatures up to 195 degrees Fahrenheit, and according to Safety News, “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.”

Luckily, you have some alternatives. Instead of brewing your tea by the sun, try one of these methods:

1. Boil two cups of water and pour into a two-quart jar or pitcher. Seep three or four teabags (black, green, or oolong works best) in the water for 20-30 minutes and remove. Top with more water until the remainder of your container is full. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve in a glass over ice and, if desired, sweeten with sugar or simple syrup.

2. Fill a two-quart pitcher or jar with cold water. Add 5-6 black, green, or oolong teabags to the water and set inside your refrigerator overnight. The tea will be ready in twelve hours. Pour into individual glasses filled with ice. If desired, sweeten with sugar or simple syrup. You can also add sliced citrus fruit (wash the skin well before slicing) to your container before placing in the refrigerator overnight for a little added flavor and refreshment.

Despite the risks, there are people who have been brewing sun tea the old fashioned way for years without consequence. If you insist on following suit, take the precautions outlined below to reduce your chances of getting sick from bacteria growth:

1. Sanitize your equipment thoroughly.

2. Brew only as much tea as you plan to drink that day.

3. Use teas that contain caffeine rather than herbal teas. Caffeine represses bacteria growth for the first few hours of the brewing process.

4. Take the tea inside as soon as it has brewed, and begin refrigerating as soon as possible.

5. Look for any signs of bacteria before consuming. Is there an off smell or taste? Does it have a syrupy or ropey consistency? If so, don’t drink it.