Copper is often used to make kitchenware such as pots and pans, but with certain foods, it can be a health concern. A Moscow Mule, which is a simple combination of vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer is traditionally served in a copper mug. However, according to health officials, the possibility for food poisoning from these signature mugs is serious enough that Iowa, and many other states have adopted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Model Food Code, reports CBS News.
The code bans copper, and copper alloys, like brass, from coming into direct contact with acidic foods that have a pH below 6.0. That includes wine, fruit juice, vinegar and Moscow Mules. The pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Foods and liquids that have a pH below 6.0 are acidic and can erode the copper and copper alloys causing them to mix with whatever is being consumed, the Daily Hornet reports.
Lime juice pH is between 2.0 and 2.35. It is acidic enough to dissolve small amounts of copper from the mug into the drink, so the potential of copper contamination from a Moscow Mule is significant. Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division released a statement on July 28, advising against the use of the mugs with copper interiors: “The pH of a traditional Moscow Mule is well below 6.0. This means that copper mugs that have a copper interior may not be used with this beverage. However, copper mugs linked on the interior with another metal, such as nickel or stainless steel, are allowed to be used and are widely available.”
The advisory goes on to say, “The recent popularity of Moscow Mules, an alcoholic cocktail typically served in a copper mug, has led to inquiries regarding the safe use of copper mugs and this beverage. The use of copper and copper alloys as a food contact surface is limited in Iowa. High concentrations of copper are poisonous and have caused foodborne illness. When copper and copper alloy surfaces contact acidic foods, copper may be leached into the food.”
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Other drinks that should not be served in a copper mug due to their pH levels include apple cider, any citrus fruit juice, cranberry and pineapple juice, dark colas, Lipton iced tea, and root beer, reports the Daily News.
Legend Behind Moscow Mules Copper Cups
The reason Moscow Mules are served in copper cups, according to legend, is a successful Smirnoff Mule marketing campaign that depicted the drink served in the mugs and promoted it to be one of the most popular cocktails of the 1950s and 1960s. The copper mug is now traditional, so serving the mule in anything else might be like serving champagne in a paper cup.
According to Country Living, much of the popularity of the Moscow Mule drink can be attributed to the pretty copper mugs in which they are traditionally served. Unfortunately, the very thing that makes the cocktail so special might also be a health hazard.
The product site Home Wet Bar says that copper mugs provide the perfect chilled drink since the metal gets cold and insulates the cocktail. Home Wet Bar also states the copper seems to enhance the flavor of the cocktail’s ingredients, but that might just be the tastiness of a potentially dangerous chemical reaction. Moscow Mules have resurfaced as a popular drink allegedly due to Instagram, the Daily News reports.
Although copper is an important naturally occurring trace element, it can also be toxic to people. Toxic levels of copper can leach into food and water through copper containers (such as those used for the Moscow Mule and other drinks) and through copper or copper alloy plumbing.
High levels of copper are poisonous and may cause food poisoning. Symptoms of copper poisoning include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Long-term effects of copper poisoning may include liver damage or cirrhosis.
A leading microbiologist with expertise in copper toxicity notes that there is a kind of biological early warning system that can frequently stop people from consuming copper-contaminated drinks. Before the highest levels of copper in a beverage is reached, the drink gets a metallic taste, which is a warning that there is too much copper in the drink.
Legal Information and Advice for Consumers
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