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O-16. Yes, beer is good, but is it safe? A review of foodborne pathogen and toxic substance levels in beer

Presenter: Alison K. Hamm, Colorado State University Department of Food Science, Fort Collins, CO
Coauthor: Marisa Bunning, Colorado State University Department of Food Science, Fort Collins, CO

Beer is a widely consumed food product, and brewers should be aware of emerging safety issues concerning foodborne microorganisms and toxic substances. Historically, beer consumption was encouraged in areas where drinking water was contaminated with pathogens. The malting and brewing process includes several “hurdles” for pathogens or potentially dangerous chemicals they must survive. The ethanol content, low pH, lack of nutrients, hop acids and anti-microbial properties, and high CO2 and low O2 levels in finished beer serve as obstacles for potentially dangerous microbes and chemicals. However, questionable levels of toxic substances such as aflatoxins, nitrosamines, pesticides, and heavy metals have been found in beers, especially those brewed in developing countries. Even low amounts of toxins may pose a threat due to chronic exposure. Current research evidence indicates beer is a safe beverage when consumed in moderate amounts. Foodborne pathogens cannot survive in beer at appreciable amounts, and potentially toxic chemicals do not generally occur at harmful levels. As a take-home message, the most dangerous element in beer produced in the United States is ethanol. The potential benefits of beer consumption with food contaminated with a pathogen will also be discussed.

Ali Hamm has been an MBAA Rocky Mountain District member since 2007 and has attended the MBAA Brewing and Malting Science course in Madison, WI. For the past seven years Ali has worked in several areas of the hops industry, including research, consulting, and sales. She has given several presentations at local brewing conferences and workshops, including the local MBAA district. Ali obtained a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology from UC Berkeley and then moved on to Colorado State University for a master’s degree in horticulture. She is currently in the food sciences doctorate program at Colorado State University and is helping to develop a new fermentation microbiology course.

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