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Non-alcoholic beer can be a hotbed for pathogens

Those opting for non-alcoholic brews, which have gained popularity among the health-aware younger generations, might encounter an unexpected problem. 

According to a recent study led by Cornell University, non-alcoholic beers are a hotbed for bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. This kind of beer, devoid of the protective properties of alcohol, didn’t perform as well in safety tests as its alcoholic counterparts.

Focus of the study

Experiments conducted over a two-month period placed three types of bacteria in both non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beers to observe their survival and growth. Keeping non-alcoholic beers chilled at 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit did offer some protection, but wasn’t deemed a foolproof method for safety.

The study’s authors – Cornell’s food science experts collaborating with the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado – emphasized the necessity of pasteurization for non-alcoholic beers to reach commercial sterility. They further suggested that sterile filtration and preservatives might be prudent additional measures.

How the research was conducted 

The lead researcher, Randy Worobo, a food microbiologist, and his team monitored the survival of bacterial pathogens based on beer’s acidity levels, storage temperatures, and alcohol content. 

They altered the alcohol levels of a low-alcohol beer, initially at 3.65 percent ABV, down to 3.20 percent, and introduced bacterial strains to various acidic environments typical for alcoholic beverages.

What the researchers learned 

The experts investigated the survival of bacteria like E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes under different conditions. They found that while L. monocytogenes eventually perished, E. coli and Salmonella could thrive for over two months, especially in non-alcoholic variants.

These findings point to non-alcoholic beer as an especially conducive environment for pathogen growth, though bacteria managed to survive in both non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beers under various conditions. By contrast, regular beers, with higher ABV percentages, didn’t exhibit this vulnerability and are often safely stored at ambient temperatures in stores.

To tackle these safety concerns, the scientists recommend that breweries reassess their low and non-alcoholic beers, especially those with a pH above 4.20, by consulting with a “process authority” knowledgeable about the beer’s thermal processing needs.

More about non-alcoholic beers 

Non-alcoholic beer is beer that contains very little to no alcohol. Typically, non-alcoholic beers have less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), which is a small enough amount that it doesn’t have a significant psychoactive effect. 

This type of beer is brewed similarly to regular beer, but either the fermentation process is stopped before it produces a significant amount of alcohol, or the alcohol is removed after fermentation through various methods like heat, filtration, or reverse osmosis. 

Non-alcoholic beers are popular among people who enjoy the taste of beer but choose to avoid alcohol for health, dietary, or personal reasons.

The study is published in the Journal of Food Protection.

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