When Death Wish Coffee Co—complete with skull and bones logo—first went into business, the proprietors probably didn’t expect the name to be literal. However, they just announced a recall of its 11-oz cans of nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee over concerns that they could contain the deadly toxin botulin.
The “Death Wish” they were alluding to was a strategy for a “fiercely caffeinated” product—which it is, with 54.2 mg of caffeine per fluid ounce. The average cup of coffee has between 12 and 16 mg.
However, that is not the concern today. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation botulinum toxin spores can be found on many fresh food surfaces. Since they only grow in the absence of air, they are typically harmless if consumed. When you remove or greatly reduce oxygen levels—to below two percent—botulinum toxin cells start to multiple, particularly if it is a low-acid environment.
Unfortunately, this is precisely the environment needed to produce “nitro” cold-brew coffees like Death Wish. This is a process in which beans are steeped for several hours—which reduces acidity—and then canned, cold.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comment that botulism is “a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves and causes difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death.”
And, all jokes aside, company founder Mike Brown, 37, assures that he is taking the safety of this product very seriously.
Admittedly, he comments, “I know our logo and our name might not seem like it reflects [this seriousness; but] Our reputation matters more than our finances at this point.”
He goes on to explain how the company exploded to 150 stores in by 2016, adding that “Last year, we had $6 million in sales, and now we’re already at $10 million. We think we can cross $15 million by the end of the year.”
Brown also adds that the risks are low but would be extreme if anything was to develop from them. As such, Death Wish will give a refund to anyone who has ordered the new product from its website since the February launch. While the recall will cost the company around $300,000—and millions more, probably, in future sales—they would take a much bigger hit if any related health claims were to be filed.