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Sun tea may contain bacteria
Sunshine can be a good thing. Its ultraviolet rays can turn antique glass purple, provided that the glass was manufactured prior to 1914, when manganese was used in the glass formula. Sunshine can also sanitize soil in garden beds, which is great for people who plant their own herbs and vegetables.
And sunshine is great for making sun tea, a refreshing summertime drink.
With just water, tea bags, a large glass container, sunshine and about five minutes of prep time, sun tea can be ready in an hour in Yuma in the summertime.
There's just one problem. Sunshine doesn’t heat the water to a temperature that kills bacteria. In fact, it usually doesn’t heat water past 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and tea that brews at that temperature or lower is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, said Brian O’Green, environmental programs manager at the Yuma County Health District.
While several types of viruses and bacteria can show up in sun tea, the most common bacteria that affects it is called alcaligenes viscolactis, O’Green said.
This type of bacteria can cause gastric upset, diarrhea and other flu-like symptoms, he said. Because it can be found naturally in some water sources, some teas and in sun tea containers that have not been properly washed and sanitized, using boiled water to make tea is a safer alternative to making sun tea, he said. “In order to kill anything, water should be heated to about 195 degrees for three to five minutes.”
However, there are some people who enjoy making and drinking sun tea. O’Green outlined the following recommendations for reducing the risk of bacteria in sun tea:
• Properly clean and sanitize container. Completely empty sun tea container, scrub with warm, soapy water and rinse. As an additional precaution, use a final disinfectant rinse (1-1/2 teaspoons bleach per gallon of water). If the container has a spigot, open the spigot and run the bleach solution through that as well.
• Do not leave sun tea brewing in the sunlight for more than three or four hours, and refrigerate is as soon as it’s done. (In Yuma, check tea for doneness after one hour.)
• Do not prepare more tea than you plan to use that day. Tea that sits for more than one day can become thick and cloudy, which is a sign of bacteria growth.
• Do not make herbal sun tea because herbal teas do not have caffeine, which can temporarily help prevent some microbe growth. However, black tea contains caffeine.
• Consider making refrigerator tea, which is safer than sun tea. Place tea bags in cold water in a container, and let it sit in the fridge for at least six hours or overnight.
“Sun tea is good,” O’Green said. “I used to drink it, but you have to be a little it more careful with it.”
HOW TO MAKE A GALLON OF SUN TEA:
Pour one gallon of room temperature water into a gallon-size glass container with a lid. Place four family-size black tea bags in water, and place lid on container. Put container out in direct sunlight for about an hour. It will brew quickly on a hot surface, such as concrete. Make sure nothing will shade container while the tea brews. For stronger tea, add another tea bag or leave out in sunlight a little longer, but not more than three or four hours. Remove tea bags and refrigerate immediately after brewing. Serve over ice, sweeten if desired, and garnish with a fresh mint sprig or lime wedge.