The Moscow mule — an alcohol beverage that includes vodka, ginger beer and lime — is surging in popularity over recent years. Why? The trendy, picture-worthy, signature copper mug this drink is served in seems to contribute greatly to the intrigue among younger generations. Unfortunately, however, a recent advisory bulletin from the Alcoholic Beverages Division of Iowa warns that these popular mugs aren’t only Instagram ready, they’re likely toxic copper mugs.
Toxic Copper Mugs: A Moscow Mule Warning
High concentrations of copper are poisonous and can cause foodborne illness. When copper comes into contact with acidic foods or drinks, it can trigger leaching. Iowa, along with many other states, is adopting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Model Food Code, which “prohibits copper from coming into direct contact with foods that have a pH below 6.0.”
Examples of foods with a pH below 6.0 include acidic foods such as vinegar, chocolate, cheese, nuts, fruit juice, black tea, wine and more. The pH of a traditional Moscow mule is well below 6.0. That means that following the federal Food and Drug Administration’s Model Food Code, copper mugs with a copper interior may not be used with Moscow mule. Copper mugs lined on the interior with another metal, however, are allowed to be used. Examples of popular, acceptable metals include nickel and stainless steel. (1)
Acute Copper Poisoning Symptoms
Acute copper poisoning is rare, but serious health problems from long-term exposure to copper can occur. Swallowing large amounts of copper may cause: (2)
- Abdominal pain
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
Symptoms of long-term exposure include the above symptoms as well as:
- Anemia symptoms
- Burning sensation
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Muscle aches
While drinking an occasional Moscow mule may not cause the severe symptoms associated with long-term copper exposure, it is important to stay aware of your amount of contact with copper, as it can build up over time. When considering copper toxicity, it is also important to factor in cookware, your drinking water and even hormonal birth control.
Some researchers now believe excess copper may even be a surprising cause of dementia. So if you have copper water pipes in your home, you may want to get your water tested for copper and avoid too many Moscow mules.
Toxic Copper Mugs: Better Alternatives
Now, you do not have to stop ordering your favorite alcoholic drink. When ordering a Moscow mule, check to see if your copper mug has an interior lining made from another metal. Mugs lined with nickel or stainless steel are considered safe.
If you’ve chosen to cut alcohol out of your diet or want to enjoy this drink as a “mocktail,” try my Moscow Mule Mocktail recipe below (in a nickel/stainless steel mug, of course! Or just plain glass.):
Moscow Mule Mocktail
- ½ cup ginger beer
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup sparkling water
- mint leaves
- lime slice
- crushed ice
- Fill a mug ¾ of the way full with crushed ice.
- Mix the ginger beer, fresh lime juice and sparkling water together in the mug filled with ice.
- Top with a freshly cut lime slice and a mint leaf.
Final Thoughts on Toxic Copper Mugs
- High concentrations of copper are poisonous and have been found to cause foodborne illness.
- The Food and Drug Administration’s Model Food Code “prohibits copper from coming into direct contact with foods that have a pH below 6.0.” The pH of a traditional Moscow mule is well below 6.0.
- Mugs lined with nickel or stainless steel are considered safe.
- Acute copper poisoning is rare, but health problems from long-term exposure to copper can occur, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and yellow skin.
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