Mold, Toxins, and Pesticides: Coffee's Dirty Secret

Though your morning cup of coffee may seem innocent, it's likely hiding a myriad of mold, toxins, and pesticides. Many conventionally grown coffee contains health-harming contaminants like Ochratoxin A, Acrylamide, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Yeast, and Pesticides, which can not only cause short term symptoms like fatigue, weakness, and brain fog, but lead to long-term health consequences like cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and more.

In this article you will learn about:

Ochratoxin A (OTA) in Coffee

Ochratoxin A is classified as a possible carcinogen by the US Government and categorized as a mycotoxin.

It causes oxidative stress in the body, which impairs mitochondrial function, and disrupts protein synthesis. This can lead to a variety of symptoms like memory problems, brain fog, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, night sweats, dizziness, and even hair loss.

The damage doesn't stop there. Over time, Ochratoxin A can damage your DNA and significantly compromise your immune system, potentially leading to liver cancer, kidney cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Some of the first signs of mold exposure are fatigue, weakness, and sinus infections.

Here's what you can do to avoid Ochratoxin A:

  • Choose a coffee brand that tests to confirm the absence of Ochratoxin A and other harmful toxins 
  • Select a brand that stores their coffee beans in a temperature-controlled storage facility (to prevent mold growth)
  • Look for coffee that is roasted in a smokeless machine to reduce harmful compounds and boost health-promoting antioxidants

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Acrylamide in Coffee

Acrylamide is also classified as a probable human carcinogen by the US Government and has also been shown to be a neurotoxin that can damage nervous system function.

Acrylamide forms in starchy foods when heated to 250ºF or more, making coffee's roasting process (at approximately 385ºF) a prime breeding ground. In coffee specifically, acrylamide is formed in the beginning of the roasting process, but as the beans continue to roast, it breaks down. This means medium and dark roast beans are the safer choice.

The neurotoxic and probable cancer-causing aspects of Acrylamide are why the state of California mandates businesses including coffee shops to post a Prop 65 warning (aka Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act). This notice lets customers know that they're being exposed to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

Here's how you can avoid acrylamide in coffee:

  • Opt for medium or dark roasts over light roast coffee
  • Choose arabica beans over robusta beans
  • Look for coffee that is roasted in a smokeless machine to reduce harmful compounds including acrylamide
  • Choose coffee that tests for the absence of acrylamide and other toxins

Aflatoxin in Coffee

If you thought Ochratoxin and Acrylamide were bad, meet Aflatoxin B1. This toxin is known as the most potent natural carcinogen and is classified as a mycotoxin. It primarily occurs during the pre-harvesting stage of coffee bean farming, but also can form in the storing and processing stages.

A diet with exposure to aflatoxins has been linked to liver cancer in humans, and a study on peanut factory workers exposed to dust contaminated with Aflatoxin B1 showed a link to respiratory cancer and total cancer compared to workers who weren’t exposed.

No other natural product has data that so definitively proves its status as a human carcinogen so this is one you definitely want to avoid.

Here's what you can do:

  • Select high-quality coffee beans that are specialty grade and organically grown
  • Choose coffee that tests for the absence of aflatoxin and other harmful compounds
  • Select a brand that stores their coffee beans in a temperature-controlled storage facility

PAH: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Coffee

Another health-harming toxin to look out for in your morning brew is Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (also know as PAHs).

So what is the problem with PAHs? They're why health experts recommend you limit the amount of charred foods you consume - PAHs are classified as probable carcinogens by the US government and short term exposure to PAHs is linked to cancer.

When it comes to coffee, PAHs are created when coffee is roasted at high temperatures for long periods of time. Unfortunately, this means that dark roasts commonly contain higher levels of PAH.

Here are a couple things you can do to reduce your exposure to PAHs:

  • Choose a medium or light roast bean
  • Look for coffee that is roasted in a smokeless machine to reduce harmful compounds like PAHs
  • Choose coffee that tests for the absence of PAHs

Yeast in Your Coffee

Yeast in coffee? Yes. Yeast is commonly associated with bread, but it is actually a key player in many fermentation processes, including wine, beer, chocolate, and you guessed it, coffee. For chocolate and coffee in particular, it is believed that yeast strains play a critical role in the creating a bean's distinctive taste and smell.

Though yeast is part of the fermentation process, there shouldn't be high levels of it your morning cup of joe. In addition to creating a flavorful bean, the roasting process also serves as a ‘kill step,’ with the goal of killing any pathogens (including yeast) in contaminated green coffee.

If your coffee contains high levels of yeast, there are two primary reasons: poor handling practices at the roastery or cross contamination with yeast-containing green (unroasted) coffee. 

Though the low levels of yeast present in coffee isn't a problem for most, it can be dangerous for those with allergies and sensitive immune systems. Especially for those with immune conditions, exposure to yeast can cause an imbalance in the gut microbiota and lead to changes in the T-cells, the cells that help in the immune response, causing inflammation.

Here's how you can avoid yeast in your coffee:

  • Select a brand that stores their coffee beans in a temperature-controlled storage facility (to prevent mold growth)
  • Choose coffee that tests for the absence of yeast and other harmful compounds

Pesticides in Coffee

Only 3% of coffees available worldwide today are grown using organic methods, which means 97% are treated with pesticides and other chemicals.

Coffee is largely grown in developing countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Ethiopia, many of  which have few to no regulations on the use of pesticides and chemicals on food products. In fact, some actually use chemicals to treat coffee that have been banned in the US and Europe.

Though its been said the roasting process destroys pesticides, research now suggests that these chemicals actually penetrate the green coffee bean. Because of this, roasting often fails to eradicate the contamination, which can result in pesticide residue in coffee even after it’s been brewed.

Pesticide exposure is linked to a number of troubling health issues like:

  • ADHD in kids
  • Alzheimer’s Disease>
  • birth defects>
  • breast cancer
  • other cancers
  • depression
  • fertility issues
  • immune system damage
  • low IQ in kids>
  • ovarian cancer
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • prostate cancer
  • respiratory problems

Here's what you can do to avoid pesticides in your coffee:

  • Always be sure to purchase coffee grown using organic methods
  • Pick coffee that is tested to confirm the absence of pesticide residues


With so much potential for these health-harming compounds to be hiding in your morning cup of coffee, it's critical to choose high-quality coffee beans. 

At Natural Force, we're proud to say that we prioritize the health benefits of our Clean Coffee as highly as we prioritize taste - and we have the tests to prove it. Here's what sets our Clean Coffee apart:

  • Clean Coffee starts with single origin, hand-picked, specialty grade, and organically grown Arabica coffee beans sourced from sustainable coffee plantations in the high mountains of Colombia
  • We rigorously test every batch for health offenders including Ochratoxin A, Aflatoxin, Acrylamide, fungus, yeast, and 165 different types of pesticide residue
  • Our coffee beans are stored in temperature-controlled warehouses to prevent mold growth
  • Clean Coffee is roasted to the perfect medium roast in a smokeless machine that simultaneously reduces harmful compounds while boosting beneficial compounds like the super antioxidant chlorogenic acid
  • We test to ensure every batch of beans contains up to 200% more antioxidants than other coffee brands
  • Finally, our roasted Clean Coffee is quickly packaged in a recyclable, BPA-free bag and flushed with nitrogen to ensure that you experience the delicious aroma and flavor of fresh roasted coffee with every cup
It's rigorous standards like these that ensure every bag of Clean Coffee isn't just absent of the bad stuff, but as importantly, contains the good stuff that will give you the healthiest, most flavorful cup of coffee you've ever had!


    UP NEXT: Chlorogenic Acid: Coffee's Secret "Super Antioxidant"

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