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Non-alcoholic beers are a breeding ground for E.coli and salmonella, scientists claim


Anyone planning a switch to non-alcoholic beer, as health-conscious Gen Z partiers have done in recent years, may find themselves getting sick even without the binge.

Non-alcoholic beers provide a fertile breeding ground for bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, according to a new study from Cornell University.

The buzz-free beer fared worse than both traditional beer and low-alcohol beer (defined as less than 2.5 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV), as researchers theorize, due to alcohol’s disinfecting properties.

Non-alcoholic beers have proven to be a fertile breeding ground for bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, according to a new study out of Cornell University

The buzz-free beer fared worse than both traditional beer and low-alcohol beer (defined as less than 2.5 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV), the researchers theorize due to alcohol's disinfecting properties

Non-alcoholic beers have proven to be a fertile breeding ground for bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, according to a new study out of Cornell. The buzz-free beer fared worse than low-alcohol beer (less than 2.5 percent alcohol by volume), due to alcohol’s disinfecting properties

Sales of non-alcoholic beer in the US have shot up by 32 percent, radically outstripping the growth of real booze, according to new data from the surveyors at NielsenIQ

Sales of non-alcoholic beer in the US have shot up by 32 percent, radically outstripping the growth of real booze, according to new data from the surveyors at NielsenIQ

Three different types of harmful bacteria were tested in both non-alcoholic beer and low-alcohol beer for over two months. 

The refrigerated non-alcoholic beer kept below 39.2 Fahrenheit (F) did manage to stay safer to drink than the same lager at room temperature. 

But the researchers warned that keeping these beverages frosty is simply not enough to keep them safe.

‘Low and nonalcoholic beers should be processed through pasteurization, to achieve commercial sterility,’ advised the study’s authors, food scientists with Cornell’s AgriTech writing in collaboration with the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado.

‘Sterile filtration and the addition of preservatives should be considered as additional steps,’ they wrote in the new paper, published by the Journal of Food Protection, ‘to reduce this microbial risk.’

The researchers, led by food microbiologist Randy Worobo, tracked the effects of acidity (pH), storage temperature, and alcohol concentration (specifically ethanol) on whether or not the microbial pathogens would reproduce or die off in the beer.

Three pH ‘acidity’ levels of beer were tested, all typical of wine, beer and similar boozy beverages: 4.20, 4.60, and 4.80 

The alcohol concentrations were adjusted from their initial values, with the 3.65-percent ABV low-alcohol beer dropped down to 3.20-percent ABV.

A mixture of five strains of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, and similar ‘cocktails’ of Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes, were then tested at all these acidity and alcohol levels for two temperatures, 39.2 F (4 C) and 57.2 F (14 C).

Both, E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella survived low and nonalcoholic beer for over 2 months (63 days), but the the microbial colonies grew in the nonalcoholic beer.

For all test cases, the L. monocytogenes bacteria died off during that time period.  

As a foodborne pathogen, L. monocytogenes can lead to a serious infection, listeriosis, which infects an estimated 1,600 people each year and kills approximately 206, according the the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).

On balance the non-alcoholic beer was a more fertile space for the pathogens to grow, but bacteria survived in a variety of conditions in both kinds of beer.  

Regular beer, which can be in the range of 4-to-5-percent ABV for a ‘lite’ beer and as high as 10-percent ABV for various ‘craft’ beers, is immune from the bacteria forming, a factor allowing it to be routinely stored by groceries at room temperature.

Cornell’s food scientists now recommend that low and non-alcoholic beers, with a pH higher than 4.20 in particular, should be reviewed by their brewery’s in-house ‘process authority,’ an expert in the thermal processing requirements of the beer.



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