Sun tea can kill you?

According to this article on Snopes sun tea can lead to bacterial infections. In particular it mentions Alcaligenes viscolactis, “a bacteria commonly found in water”.

The question is this: if this bacteria that solar heating isn’t enough to kill is already in the water, why am I not dead many times over from drinking tap water?

Quick guess–you’re giving the bacteria a nice, warm incubator in which to proliferate.

Because the bacteria levels in the water are so low, your immune system has no problem fighting them off. But when you warm the water in the sun, and add a food source (the tea decoction), the bacteria begin to multiply, and soon you have a bacteria colony that is far larger than anything that would occur in tap water alone. That’s why you get sick.

Right, so boil the water to kill of the bacteria before using it to make sun tea? Would boiling kill them off, and would the water remain safe if you let it cool enough to use for sun tea?

Unless there is bacteria in the teabags.

I am a great fan of taking bottled tea with me wherever I go, and the other day I was in Whole Foods loading up on Tazo, Tea’s Tea, and Honest Tea. Next to these I saw something called Kombucha. Hmm, I guess it’s a Japanese tea variety because it ends in -cha. I thought of bancha, genmaicha, kukicha. Sounded good.

Then, sitting at my desk, I started to read the label. First it said Kombucha is a cultured tea product and claimed various health benefits from it. Then it said there may appear “threads” of bacteria in the drink. I looked closely inside the bottle. There they were. Drifting scum. Eeeewwww. I opened it and it fizzed. The aroma was sour, yeasty, like something was left out and spoiled. Hey, I’m all for health food, but aesthetically this stuff was just wrong.

So yeah, tell me about bacteria in tea. <shudder>

Johanna you should see the “tea mushroom” (Kombucha) jar I had when I was a kid. It was a growing blob of culture probably the size of a dinner plate and at least 1.5" thick floating inside a giant jar of brown liquid of threads. It’s the only self-replicating soft drink that’s also a pet. :rolleyes: I don’t know why I didn’t think it was gross to just tip the jar into a cup and drink the swill as a kid. It’s kind of icking me out right now.

KNBC-4LA had a story on this a few years ago (and I posted about it here a few times). They spent like five minutes trying to scare the hell out of everybody, and then said something like ‘There are no reports of anybody becoming seriously ill from drinking sun tea.’ :rolleyes:

When I lived in the desert I drank a gallon of sun tea every day. I never felt any ill effects. Ever.

Incidentally, the Channel 4 story said the bacteria was on the tea leaves; not the water.

I’ve been drinking sun tea all my life with no ill effects.

It’s also possible to smoke your whole life with no ill effects.

You’re not wrong. You’re also not particularly relevant.

What’s the point of ‘Sun tea’?

More to the point, what is it? As far as I can tell by reading it, it’s tepid/warm tea made by leaving tea bags in water out in the sun. Why on earth would anyone want to do this?

Why? Sun tea is not as bitter as tea brewed by boiling or almost boiling water. The sun is involved to warm the brew for a day or so.

Is it safe? As a food scientist, I have to say that sun tea is dangerous because there is no guaranteed way to make it safely. We look for a definitive step that will guarantee safety, such as retorting a can of food to kill any bacteria that may have made it into the can. If you are going to make sun tea, and want to minimize your risk, follow these simple steps:

  1. boil your water for 3 to 5 minutes then cool in the covered pan.
  2. sterilize your jar, either with bleach or peroxide (or Quat if you have access) or by boiling it (and the lid and valve, and gaskets) in water for 10 minutes. This makes quart-sized Nalgene bottles or canning jars good places for tea brewing.
  3. do not brew for longer than a few hours, refrigerate thereafter
  4. do not store tea for more than a day or two, max.
  5. do not drink any tea that is slimy, foamy, smells bad, or has sediment.
  6. do not (not NOT!!!) add sugar before brewing.

I don’t make sun tea, but I have been known to put a tea bag in a Nalgene bottle and fill it with warm tap water and refrigerate for a day. It is tasty and simple, and most of all, safe.

Nor after.

As a food scientist, does this method have a definitive step to kill the bacteria contained in the tea bag?

What I think Szlater and Colophon miss is that it’s a version of iced tea rather than hot tea. You brew it in the sun, then refrigerate it.

I think what it comes down to is this: no, sun tea is not completely safe. If I were selling it I’d be in for a whole mess of liability. However, I can take risks on my own should I want to. So, given that sun tea can be dangerous, how dangerous can it be?

The usual procedure I learned from my mother has a well-cleaned (but not bleached or boiled) large jar (I’ll guess 1-1.5 gal). No sugar added, of course (we don’t mind a bit of tannin). Left with tap water (unboiled) to brew for 4-6h in the sun, then stuck in the fridge. It’s taken up to a week to go through it, and I’ve never seen these “slimy/foamy/stinky/gritty” effects both xbuckeye and the original Snopes piece mention.

Assuming this procedure, and that I’d throw out the remnant if it did turn slimy/foamy/stinky/gritty, how dangerous is it? Let’s get some real statistics out here and not scaremongering “couldas”.

I notice that nothing mentions any incidents of people becoming ill, and the Snopes article has no link to anything on the CDC site and I can’t find any such article on the CDC site. So what is going on?

As I mentioned, the news report I saw said that there were no reports of illness. IMO they were just going for the ratings. ‘Sun tea can kill you! Stay tuned!’

Ha! All this talk of microbial contamination is just a distraction by the corporate mind-f*ckers to keep us from dwelling on the real danger of sun tea: it’s a fire hazard!

At least according to the instructions on the box of name brand tea bags I read several years ago. (I don’t know if they print this warning on the box anymore.) The directions told the user to set the jar in the sun away from flammable objects. I theorized that the water-filled jar could act like a magnifying glass and set the tablecloth or something on fire.

Who cares if some tainted sun tea has given a few hapless souls a bout of the runs? I want to know if anyone’s mansion has gone up in flames because of the stuff.