If you reach for a tea bag and it has a fuzz of mold on it, it’s definitely a cause for concern. Mold-related illnesses are responsible for hospitalizing hundreds of people a year, and one of the ways they’re exposed is through moldy food and drink.
Tea bags can grow mold on either the tea bag or the tea itself. Mold is found in any environment that contains a high level of humidity. Mold can be prevented in tea bags by keeping them in an airtight container and keeping your tea in a low-humidity environment.
If you’re worried about mold getting to your tea bags, you should be. Keep reading below to learn more about the mold that can infect your tea bags and what you can do to keep them safe.
Tea Bags Can Grow Mold
Even though tea itself has antimicrobial and antifungal properties, that doesn’t mean that it can’t grow mold. The tea bags that tea is stored in are especially vulnerable to cultivating mold since the materials they are made out of, such as paper and muslin, accept mold spores easily.
Tea can also be susceptible to mold during the curing process. If tea isn’t protected during oxidation, exposure to mold spores can cause it to develop mold before the tea is finished being processed. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to detect this type of mold in tea unless you examine the loose tea itself. If the mold is present in the tea before it’s packaged, you may not notice it.
Is Mold In Tea Bags Dangerous?
Let’s get one thing straight: it’s never a good idea to breathe in or ingest mold spores. So if you have some tea bags that have gone moldy, the safest and most hygienic thing to do is toss them and replace them with fresh tea bags.
However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll keel over if you accidentally ingest a cup of moldy tea. There are a few reasons for this:
- Immune system: Even if you’re infected with fungal spores, a healthy human immune system should be able to successfully fight this kind of infection off the same way you’d fight off any other minor viral or bacterial infection.
- Stomach acid: When you ingest mold, the mold itself is destroyed by the acid and digestive juices in your stomach.
In most cases, moldy tea won’t harm you. However, there are some types of mold that contain dangerous mycotoxins that may pose a bigger risk. It’s never a good idea to sniff suspected mold infestations to see if your tea bags smell moldy. Since mold can infect humans with spores that they breathe in, this is a much more dangerous risk from tea mold than eating it.
Mycotoxins in Tea
There are several different ways that mycotoxins – the toxins that are generated by many kinds of mold and fungus – can get accidentally introduced to your tea. From cultivation to storage, every step of tea agriculture exposes the tea to mold and fungus.
Here are a few reasons why tea is particularly vulnerable to mold infestation:
- Tropical climate: Many varieties of tea are cultivated in climates with warm, humid climates. These climates are perfect for cultivating mold as well as tea.
- Geographical location: The two main regions where tea is cultivated, India and China, are areas of the world where there are particularly high levels of aflatoxins and orchatoxins, the two mycotoxins most commonly found in tea.
Because it’s so easy for tea to get mold, it’s important to inspect any tea bags for indications of mold before you brew them. Here are a few of the most obvious signs of mold infestation in tea bags:
- Visible mold: If you see patches of discoloration on your tea bags or your tea, that’s a pretty good indication that you have a mold infestation going on.
- Clumping tea: If you shake your tea bag and the tea leaves inside clump together rather than sliding loosely inside the tea bag, then this is an indication that the tea inside may be contaminated with mold.
- Off smells: If your tea bags are infested with mold, they may have a musty or “off” smell to them. Any tea bags that don’t have a clean, fresh, grassy fragrance of tea should be discarded.
Since many people collect different kinds of tea, it can be easy to accidentally let older tea bags mold if you don’t check your inventory often. Be sure to do a once-over on any tea bag before you use it to make sure the tea inside is fresh and clean.
What Happens if You Drink Moldy Tea?
If you accidentally drink moldy tea, the good news is that it isn’t the end of the world. Unlike breathing in mold spores, accidental ingestion of a small amount of mold is unlikely to cause any serious illness. You may experience a few stomach cramps and some temporary nausea, just like any other kind of mild food poisoning.
How to Prevent Tea From Molding
The best way to avoid running into mold in your tea bags is to make sure your tea bags are purchased new and you are storing tea correctly. Here are a few tips for helping you keep your tea fresh and mold-free:
- Keep tea bags in an airtight container. Many types of tea come in cardboard storage boxes, but these boxes are a poor choice for long-term storage since cardboard is susceptible to
- Try desiccant bags. Desiccant bags are bags of tiny silica beads that are used to help draw humidity out of the air inside a container. This helps keep the environment where you’re storing your tea too dry to support fungus and mold. Make sure to use a food grade desiccant when you’re using it around tea you plan to drink.
Making sure to keep your tea in proper storage is the best way to prevent mold. Otherwise, the only thing you can do to help prevent it is make sure that you get your tea bags from a reputable source that doesn’t keep tea in vulnerable long-term storage.
Tea Mold Is Easy to Prevent
Even though tea mold is a fairly common problem, it’s easy enough to prevent if you store your tea properly. Since some types of tea are rare and difficult to acquire, it’s well worth the trouble to protect your stash from the environmental damage of humidity.