Is Decaf Coffee Safe to Drink?



A recent CNN report discusses the safe use of decaf coffee, highlighting the claim by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), that methylene chloride, a colorless liquid that’s used in certain industrial processes, “including paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, paint remover manufacturing, and metal cleaning and degreasing,” is used in processing decaf coffee. 

Removing caffeine while keeping a coffee bean’s aroma and flavour intact isn’t a simple task. Decaf coffee is made by stripping green, unroasted coffee beans of their caffeine content and relies on the fact that caffeine dissolves in water.

The Conversation

The Health advocacy group, OSA, and others are urging the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban methylene chloride, a chemical used in the decaffeination process, due to concerns about its potential carcinogenic properties.

Methylene chloride, commonly employed in industrial processes like paint stripping and metal cleaning, has raised red flags among experts. Dr. Maria Doa from the Environmental Defense Fund, highlights the well-established carcinogenic nature of methylene chloride, along with associated risks such as liver toxicity and neurological effects.

In addition to being carcinogenic, methylene chloride can cause other health harms, such as liver toxicity and at higher exposures neurological effects, and in some cases death.

– Dr. Maria Doa told CNN

Despite its known hazards, the FDA permits the use of methylene chloride in decaffeinated coffee as long as “the residues of methylene chloride must not exceed 10 parts per million (0.001%) in decaffeinated roasted coffee and in decaffeinated soluble coffee extract (instant coffee).”

A FDA spokesperson, told CNN, “While methylene chloride may be indirectly involved in food processing, such as in the decaffeination of coffee beans, residue limits have been set to limit exposure. Any food product that contains residues of methylene chloride above the established limits are not permitted for sale or consumption.”

While the FDA considers these petitions, consumers seeking to minimize exposure to methylene chloride can opt for decaf coffee labeled as solvent-free, Swiss Water processed, or certified organic. These labels indicate alternative decaffeination methods that do not involve methylene chloride.

Moreover, individuals concerned about potential health risks associated with decaf coffee may explore caffeine-free alternatives. “As a consumer, always do your research. Look up what you can about the company. Ask those questions if you can get on a customer hotline on their website,” said Monique Richard, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Nutrition-In-Sight, a private practice in Tennessee.

According to Starbucks, its direct contact method is the most commonly used process, which involves a solvent that, along with other liquids used, is ultimately evaporated by the beans being steamed, washed and roasted at over 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius).

As debate over the safety of decaffeinated coffee continues, consumers are encouraged to stay informed and make choices that aligned with their health needs and concerns.

Related Resource Links

Acknowledgements: ChatGPT was used to summarize some of the content and prepare the first draft.