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The challenges of packaging cold brew with dairy

Cold-brew coffee has the potential for innovative flavours and aromas. Ingredients such as dairy and dairy alternatives are the most popular add-ons, so balancing food safety and quality taste is vital. 

Dairy is a tricky ingredient because it is highly sensitive to temperature changes. It can spoil quickly when too warm and lose texture and flavour when too cold. More importantly, dairy is one of the most common ingredients that is susceptible to food-borne illnesses because of exposure to equipment, human handling, and animal contact.

Failing to apply safety measures when brewing and packaging cold brew coffee can result in anything from a forgettable product to a contaminated one.

I spoke to Darleen Scherer, the founder of Black Sheep Coffee Collab in Denver, to learn more about the challenges of packaging cold brew coffee with dairy additives. 

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Why safety is essential when packaging cold brew coffee 

A brand that fails to adhere to safety practices runs several risks. A recent example is Barista Bros’, which had several bottles of its iced coffee beverages recalled over fears of contamination in 2023. A failure in packaging exposed the drinks to possible contamination, prompting the entire line-up to be pulled from store shelves. 

The ripple effect of this packaging failure is evident. It includes not only financial losses from refunds but eroded trust in customers, who are now hesitant to purchase from the brand in the future.

All food is at risk of spoiling when left out on the counter or improperly refrigerated. However, additional risks emerge in the brewing and packaging processes. “When brewing and packaging cold brew coffee mixed with dairy, several risks are involved,” Darleen explains. “These include microbial contamination, spoilage, separation and curdling, allergen control, and maintaining quality consistency.”

The best-case scenario of a poorly packaged cold brew is a product that has an unusual flavour or strange texture. The worst-case scenario is causing food-borne illness, which runs the risk of mild symptoms to hospitalisation and death. E. coli, listeria, and shigella are among the most commonly found organisms in unpasteurised or improperly refrigerated milk and milk byproducts.

The challenges of manufacturing cold brew coffee with dairy

With the global cold brew industry expected to grow by over 22% over the next five years, businesses are scrambling to differentiate themselves amid growing competition. While the prospect for creative new drink formulations is promising, this is precisely where the challenges begin. With new recipes come fresh barriers in creating beverages that can retain their flavour, mouthfeel, and aroma in different environments or over extended periods of time. This is an area Darleen believes will be the biggest challenge faced by brands yet. 

“Looking into the future, cold brew companies will likely face challenges in maintaining food safety and quality while extending shelf life and distribution reach,” she explains. “Beyond this, they may struggle to manage risks from new innovations and formulations.”

Many brands, such as Silverskin Coffee Roasters in Dublin, have paid extra close attention to the sealing process of cold brew. Pre-rinsing cans, pasteurisation with high temperatures, nitrogen flushing, and immediate sealing are just a few safety precautions the brand takes.

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How to package cold brew coffee with dairy 

Keeping these risks at bay involves a strict commitment to dependable technology and adherence to modern food safety standards. Coffee brands also need to be aware of the unique risks associated with different packaging methods, such as cold brew cans versus BPA-free plastic bags.

“Regarding the safety of packaging methods, aseptic processing and packaging systems are considered the safest,” Darleen elaborates. “While bag-in-box packaging may have higher spoilage risks due to higher oxygen transmission rates compared to cans or bottles with proper seals.”

Risk mitigation means conducting spot checks through every step of the cold brew coffee brewing, filling, and sealing process. Missing just one step can immediately create a breeding ground for harmful pathogens. 

“To mitigate these risks, companies should follow strict sanitation and temperature controls, incorporate stabilisers and homogenisation, implement allergen control plans, and establish process controls.” Darleen continues. “Adhere to food safety plans, GMPs, pasteurisation, and refrigerated storage and distribution if the product is not shelf-stable.”

Research shows that the global milk substitute industry will reach $35 billion by 2028. Therefore, it’s likely coffee brands will face an increasing demand for cold brew with dairy-free options, as well. “When brewing and packaging cold brew with dairy alternatives such as oat milk or soy milk, some differences in safety measures should be considered,” Darleen points out, adding that soy is a significant allergen that requires labelling and control plans. 

“Also, alternative dairy options tend to separate or precipitate more readily than dairy, so emulsifiers that provide stability and prevent separation are necessary in the formulation,” she adds. Despite a few differences in labelling and texture, the majority of safety control measures remain the same.”

“In spite of these differences, the core preventive measures remain similar across dairy and non-dairy ingredients,” Darleen says. “Sanitation, temperature control, formulation, process control, and packaging barrier properties are critical for upholding safety in all cold brew products.”

Safe cold brew packaging will ensure brands maintain customers’ health and earn their trust. Since customers are more willing to pay premium prices for sustainable products, making the switch to eco-friendly packaging will also have a positive ripple effect.

At Cold Brew Pak, we understand and respect the challenges of offering a delicious and safe cold brew beverage. That’s why we offer sustainable cold brew packaging that is both affordable and fully customisable. We can also create bespoke cold brew coffee packaging for your unique collaborations while ensuring your business’s carbon footprint remains low. Cold Brew Pak offers complete cold brew coffee packaging solutions to suit your budget and business needs. 

Images courtesy of Black Sheep Coffee Collab. 

For more information on bespoke cold brew packaging options, contact our team

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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.