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What is the best way to seal cold brew cans?

Canned cold brew coffee is fast becoming the darling of the industry, with several cafes and coffee roasters adding the convenient options to the menu. Notably, a recent NCA report found the number of people who drink cold brew coffee regularly increased by 60% in the past few years. 

That said, this rapid rise in popularity hasn’t been without its teething problems – primarily related to food safety concerns. Although they are admittedly rare, food safety issues for cold brew can’t be ignored. This applies to all manufacturers, ranging from large-scale operations to coffee roasters and cafes that serve cold brew.

To gain a better understanding of how to seal cold brew cans safely and hygienically, I sat down with Brian Kenny of Silverskin Coffee Roasters in Dublin, Ireland. 

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The popularity of cans for cold brew coffee

Research shows that more specialty coffee brands are expanding into the RTD and cold brew space. According to recent industry projections, the global RTD market is expected to hit $42 billion by 2027. Beyond this, a growing number of consumers are actively favouring convenient and creative drink options. 

The convenience of cans for cold brew coffee is likely why they’re the preferred choice for both businesses and customers. Similar to a soda or an energy drink, customers get the pleasure of cracking open a satisfyingly cold coffee on the go. Beyond this, there’s less waste associated with RTD cans compared to hot coffee drinks, which often come with sleeves, lids, and coffee stoppers. 

Brands benefit from cold brew coffee cans both creatively and economically. For example, aluminium cans allow for branding with rich, bold colours, allowing brands to create eye-catching designs with minimal working parts. Aluminium is a more cost-effective material, particularly with the rising costs of paper and pulp.

“The cost is relatively cheap for the amount of aluminium cans that you buy,” explains Brian, who just launched Silverskins’ first cold brew coffee offering, True Cold Brew. Aluminium is also an infinitely recyclable material, with roughly 75% of all aluminium ever produced still being used to make products today.

“You see giant manufacturers, such as Coca-Cola, moving away from plastic,” Brian continues. “The reason is that aluminium is infinitely recyclable, and you’re not doing any damage to the environment by using it.” Additional factors, such as possible tax exemptions for recycling materials, mean aluminium cans are unlikely to be replaced anytime soon.

The risks around cold brew cans 

Despite the many benefits of aluminium cans for cold brew, there are still concerns around food safety. Cold brew cans share similar risks to canned vegetables, fruit, or meat. Missing a spot check when washing, filling, or sealing the cans can create an environment for harmful – even deadly – bacteria to thrive.

Alongside Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Enterobacteriaceae (Salmonella), one of the best-known and most deadly bacteria that thrive in canned food is botulism. Short for Clostridium botulinum, this bacteria produces a severe toxin that attacks the body’s nervous system and causes:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Arm or leg paralysis
  • Blurred vision

“When you seal a can, when you create an anaerobic environment inside a can, normally all the bugs in the world will die, right?” Brian elaborates. “When they have no oxygen and have no source of food or light, they can’t grow, but one major germ is botulism. 

“Regardless of what you’re canning, it is one of the most dangerous germs that must be killed. So we have a kill step in our process,” he adds. “Even if there is a .0001% chance of something like that, you need to eradicate it.”

Brian references the recall of Death Wish Coffee’s 11-ounce nitro cold brew cans in 2017. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled the product from shelves after research found it had unsafe packaging processes that encouraged the growth of botulism. 

“During the Rugby World Cup on this side of the world, a couple of months ago, an Irish lady passed away from eating sardines,” Brian continues. “In the sardine can, whatever it is about aluminium cans, there was botulism.

“It’s a scary thing. It attacks your brain and your nervous system. It has to be present within the system, of course. I don’t want to spook anybody out and make them think botulism randomly grows in cans,” He clarifies. Fortunately, botulism is easy to prevent with the right cleaning processes and technology.

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What is the best way to seal cold brew cans?

Sealing cans of cold brew coffee properly starts with the manufacturing and cleaning process. If any step in these processes is missed, manufacturers may create an ideal environment in which botulism can thrive in the aluminium cans.

Brian explains that the National Coffee Association (NCA) released a study on the subject about a month ago. Essentially, the study shows that botulism cannot thrive in an environment where cans are continually cleaned. “As long as proper cleaning processes are in place for tanks, for pipework, and for cans, you should be safe. These cleaning processes are often called CIP or cleaning-in-place. So, we pre-rinse all of our cans,” Brian says. 

Brian also referred to the NCA’s recently commissioned study to determine the toxic pathogen potential in cold brew coffee. The study found the potential is extremely low risk, but not entirely eliminated. 

“To pasteurise the cans, you heat them to 65°C (149°F) over a twenty-minute period,” he explains. “That will kill all the germs inside them. When it comes to the long-term storage of cold brew, I think it’s about two weeks inside a can. After that, the product will start to spoil. You can never be too safe,” he adds. 

Consistency is king in mitigating risk. Alongside cutting-edge cold brew technology, strict cleaning protocols have to be established and adhered to without fail. “It’s a good practice in a manufacturing plant, and we ensure the correct cleaners are used,” Brian says. “If you clean in place, if you clean after every brew, there’s a lot less chance of anything bad happening.

“In terms of sealing, the cans are pre-washed. So, they’re washed before the coffee goes into them. The coffee has to be fresh, obviously, and brewed under 400 degrees. After it’s ready and has been flushed with nitrogen, it’s packaged immediately.” 

Brian continues: “The most effective way to seal them is to use a canning machine. They pre-rinse them, seal them, and then wash the exterior of the cans. We then store them effectively, obviously, but once they’re sealed and pasteurised, it’s completely safe.”

At Cold Brew Pak, we offer bespoke, ready-to-grab aluminium cans for cold brew coffee. Our 100% recyclable aluminium cans for cold brew coffee are designed to cater to a variety of cold beverages and diverse drinking occasions. Lightweight and robust, our cold brew coffee cans offer superior protection against light and oxygen and are infinitely recyclable.

Pair your recyclable cold brew coffee cans with our custom printed can carriers: a sustainable and convenient solution for transporting your cold brew coffee beverages. Available in 4- and 6-packs.

Images courtesy of Silverskin Coffee Roasters. 

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About the author

Ashe is a business writer, marketer, and designer in the coffee, tea, and alcohol niches. She worked as a staff writer for DrinkStack and has been regularly featured in coffee publications such as New Ground Magazine and Fresh Cup Magazine. A committed advocate for sustainability and wellness, she approaches the coffee industry with a critical and passionate perspective.