Toxins Hiding in Your Coffee

chemicals found in coffee


Toxins Hiding in Your Coffee

Americans have the reputation of running off coffee, with an average consumption of 400 million cups of coffee per day. Drinking coffee is an integral part of big-city culture, with New York City ranked one of the top coffee capitals in the United States for years. Coffee contains over 1000 bioactive components and is an excellent source of antioxidants that contain anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. Coffee consumption has been shown to improve performance, boost cognition, and has been linked to a lower risk of mortality. Despite the wonderful and caffeine-fueled benefits coffee provides, a growing concern for the presence of contaminants, such as mold and toxins in coffee is on the rise. 

Toxins: Hidden in Plain Sight

Among the most common contaminant found in coffee is a family of molds called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are formed by molds - tiny microscopic fungi that grow on crops due to moist storage conditions. Similar to grain and corn, coffee beans are stored in hot and damp conditions which make a perfect breeding ground for molds. Storage induced toxic mold growth is a major concern among agriculturists worldwide. Additionally, the individual processes that go into coffee farming can cause contamination and toxic growth as well. Once the coffee is harvested, the ripe coffee cherries are removed, leaving behind a slimy substance around the coffee bean. To remove this substance, one of the processes that beans undergo involves fermentation. Fermentation encourages mold growth and mold maturation even more.  According to The World Health Organization, consuming mycotoxins can lead to a variety of adverse health effects and cause chronic issues, such as immune deficiency and several forms of cancer. Some of the biggest mycotoxin culprits include:


Aflatoxin B1

Aflatoxin B1 is a toxin known as the most potent natural carcinogen and is one of the most common mycotoxins found. It primarily occurs in the pre-harvesting stage of coffee farming, but can also form in the storage and process facility stage as well. Aflatoxin B1 has been linked to cancer, can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, and can significantly enhance the presence of infection to those who have Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). Aflatoxins can be controlled both pre- and post-harvest, so make sure you source your coffee from a company that tests their products for the presence of mycotoxins. 

Ochratoxin A

Ochratoxin A (OTA) is classified as a possible carcinogen in the US, and causes oxidative stress in the body, impairing the mitochondrial function and disrupts different synthesis. This disruption can lead to a variety of symptoms like chronic fatigue, dizziness, and memory loss. The biggest issue with OTA is it has the ability to damage your DNA and compromise the immune system. The number one way to avoid OTA contaminated coffee is choosing a roaster that tests their beans, and brands that prioritize their storing methods in temperate controlled facilities. 

Fumonisin B1

Fumonisin B1 is a mycotoxin that causes neurological issues and interruption of lipid synthesis in the brain. It can damage the cells in the brain that are responsible for memory and attention, which cause intense brain fog symptoms. Similarly to Aflatoxin B1 and Ochratoxin A, Fumonisin B1 can be controlled both pre- and post-harvest, so make sure you source your coffee from a company that tests their products for the presence of mycotoxins. 


In addition to mold growth, coffee beans are at risk for carcinogenic fumes and compounds to form during the high-temperature roasting process. The good news about high-heat is that it kills surface-level bacteria and chemicals. However, some mycotoxins, pesticides, and compounds prevail. Other contamination culprits caused by high-heat roasting include:



Acrylamide is classified as a probable carcinogen that has been shown to be a neurotoxin, causing damage to the nervous system. Acrylamide forms in starchy foods when heated, making the roasting process for coffee a common target. Although, acrylamide is formed at the beginning of the roasting process, and as the beans continue to roast, it can be broken down. Medium to darker roasted coffee beans is usually free of acrylamide contamination. 

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of carcinogenic toxins that are created in a food item when heated at high temperatures for long periods of time. PAHs comprise of over 100 different chemicals that accumulate in our bodies and cause several health concerns. Long-term exposure to PAHs includes kidney and liver damage,  immune system and can lead to several forms of cancer. Dark roasts commonly contain high-risk levels of PAHs because of the high heat processes, medium and lighter roasts are on the safer side. 


Avoiding Toxin Exposure

Although molds and toxins found in coffee are found in trace amounts, the overall toxin burden that is accumulated throughout the body and throughout the day is the most concerning issue. We are exposed to 84,000 chemicals each day, that builds up over time and cause long-term health issues. Taking the extra step of looking into your favorite coffee's sourcing, storage, and processing methods can go a long way for your health and exposure to toxins. If you’re concerned about your exposure levels or are struggling with chronic health issues such as chronic fatigue, research is crucial. Buying certified organic beans can also protect your health from pesticides. You can continue to be a true New York coffee-consumer while avoiding toxic exposure. Minimize your risk of mycotoxin and chemical exposure by drinking quality coffee with proper processing, storage, and roasting protocols and methods. 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5