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More than 800 aromatic substances and the stimulatory effects of coffee have contributed to its popularity around the globe. With an average annual consumption of 149 litres per consumer in 2012 coffee is the most popular beverage in Germany1 and fully automated coffee makers are more and more popular amongst consumers. But there are some dark clouds on the horizon: A recent German study by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) finds high levels of lead in coffee beverages2.

The study was conducted in the framework of a research project on the release behaviour of metals from metallic food contact materials. The study covered 3 kinds of coffee makers: pad, capsule and portafilter fully automatic types. Different levels of lead release have been found for the various types of coffeemakers.

Thorough Testing Conducted

The tests have been conducted on a total number of 8 brand new domestic coffeemakers. All machines have been employed for several days without adding coffee and 5 samples have been taken throughout a day to simulate the expected use. Additionally the coffeemakers have been decalcified according to the manufacturer’s instructions and subsequently used again to provide hot beverages without coffee addition. The collected water samples have been tested for lead release.

All tested coffeemakers show qualitative and quantitative differences in lead release. Within the course of a day as well as during long term tests the lead release is generally on a downward trend. Some portafilter type of coffeemakers have demonstrated an increased vulnerability for intolerable or almost intolerable lead release during the course of the study and especially after decalcification. Highest amount of lead was indicated to be 1600 μg/kg where the Council of Europe limits in its Resolution3 the release of lead to food from metallic food contact materials with 10 μg/kg. BfR assumes that the acetic decalcification chemicals (usually acidic or citric acids) promote the release from metal components of the machines. It is not identified which parts are especially suspicious but BfR indicated that some solders may contribute to the release among other metallic parts.

Steps To Avoid Ingestion Of High Levels Of Lead

The study also shows some coffemakers have been found to respect the lead release limit, which indicates that it is in principle technically feasible to produce machines with limited metal release. The good news is that a continuous decrease of the released lead was found with the number of cups taken from coffeemakers after decalcification. BfR recommends consumers to use precaution and rinse the coffeemakers thoroughly before the first use and especially after decalcification.

The exposure to lead by food consumption of the population is in a tolerable range and any additional sources should be avoided. The lead limit as indicated in the Council of Europe Resolution represents the value of the Drinking Water Act. For adults the exposure to lead will have effects on high blood pressure and the kidneys. Pregnant women are an especially vulnerable group of the population since lead affects the brain development of the unborn child.

Improve Product Compliance And Increase Market Confidence

Producers of coffemakers can assure the compliance of their products to market requirements for the release of regulated substances from materials in food contact; where lead is just a single aspect among others. Respective testing programs of single materials or even whole consumer products imitating foreseeable uses are a proven way to assure that consumers can securely enjoy the well loved beverage and its positive properties – making them feel light as a feather.

Find more information visit our website: www.sgs.com/hardgoods . For further details, please contact your local sales representative or the global team at: consumer.products@sgs.com.

Dr. Udo KRISCHKE
Consumer Testing Service
Global Technical Manager RSTS
SGS Germany GmbH
t +49 6128 744 235

1 Spiegel Online: The Favourite Beverage - Coffee Capsules are Becoming Increasingly Popular (in German)
2 German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment - Lead Release in Coffeemakers (in German)
3 Council of Europe - Metals and alloys used in food contact materials and articles