Could You Really Die from Death Wish Coffee?

A couple of years ago Death Wish coffee became a household name due to an ad run during the Superbowl. The name Death Wish has to do with its high caffeine content.

If you watched Super Bowl 50 you may have seen the commercial for Death Wish Coffee. Vikings rowing a long boat on a stormy sea that turns out to be Death Wish Coffee!

Death Wish coffee contains both Robusta and Arabica coffee beans. The increased caffeine content comes from the Robusta while Arabica provides the flavor, similar to Italian espressos. But could you really die from Death Wish Coffee? You could if the canned coffee contained botulism toxin! Eater reports a lethal botulism risk in one of the Death Wish coffees.

Death Wish Coffee, a brew that claims to be the “world’s strongest coffee,” has announced a wide recall of its cold brew coffee cans.

According to the FDA, all 11-ounce nitro cold brew cans of Death Wish were processed in a way that “could lead to the growth and production of the deadly toxin, botulin.”

Botulin, which grows in low oxygen and low acid environments, causes botulism in humans. The often fatal form of food poisoning can, according to the FDA, cause “general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing… [and] difficulty breathing.” Authorities advise anyone experiencing these symptoms seek medical care.

No deaths or illnesses have occurred from drinking Death Wish canned nitro cold brew but the process by which the coffee was made could allow a common spore that causes botulism to survive in the cans and create a lethal toxin. The company says that it has ceased production until manufacturing can be updated to preclude botulism as a contaminant of their coffee.


Is botulism something that you can get from drinking coffee? A spore called clostridium botulinum is common in the soil and in water. When it grows in a low oxygen environment, such as in canned meats and vegetables or coffee, it secretes a lethal toxin. The botulinum toxin causes muscle paralysis which may be limited to weakness, blurred vision and trouble speaking but can in higher amounts cause respiratory paralysis and death. The reason that canned meats and vegetables are taken to a high temperature before being sealed in a can is to kill the botulism and other spores and germs. The acidity in canned fruits tends to inhibit the growth of the botulism germ and even kill it. Unfortunately coffee is not sufficiently acidic so canned coffee could contain botulism if not heated to a high enough temperature for long enough before being sealed in a can. Killing the spore requires heating in a pressure cooker environment to 120 degrees Celsius or 248 degrees Fahrenheit which is well above the boiling temperature unless in a high pressure container. Killing the toxin is accomplished by boiling at normal pressure for ten minutes. That is the part that Death Wish Coffee needs to add to its manufacturing routine.

Although there could be botulism spores in your coffee they won’t be producing toxin. The issue has to do with putting coffee, meats or vegetable in cans for storage, not with grinding coffee beans and making a cup of coffee.

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