Sipping This Popular Cocktail Is a "Health Hazard," Experts Say

After 27 minutes, you may be at risk of heavy metal poisoning.

If like many Americans, you like to end the day by nursing a nightcap, a new study has a warning for you. Depending on your drink of choice, you may be putting your health at risk if you sip your beverage slowly. The danger, they say, is not inherent to the drink itself, but can pose a serious problem thanks to the way it's traditionally served. Read on to find out which beverage may be a hazard to your health if you nurse it for longer than 27 minutes, and how you can safely enjoy your favorite cocktail, without the added risk.

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Never drink a Moscow mule in a copper mug slowly.

moscow mule
Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

Moscow mules, a mixed cocktail of vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, are traditionally served in copper mugs—and have been ever since they first became popular in the 1940s. However, a new 2022 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health (JEH) warns that the high acidity of the drink can leach unsafe levels of metal from copper mugs in as little as 27 minutes. In that time, your drink could contain 1.3 parts per million of copper, an amount which exceeds the safe levels laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water.

The study is not the first to warn consumers about the dangers of consuming leached copper. In 2017, the State of Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division released banned bars from serving Moscow mules in copper mugs, citing the dangers of heavy metal toxicity.

The good news is that just one or two drinks should do little to no damage. "Acute copper toxicity is very unlikely," Caroline Pharr, Carroll College associate chemistry professor and co-author of the study, told Kaiser Health Network (KHN). "For that, you would need to drink 30 Moscow mules in a 24-hour period," she added. However, if a Moscow mule in a copper mug is your go-to cocktail—and especially if you tend to nurse your drink slowly over a long period of time—you could eventually experience copper toxicity in your body over time.

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In fact, consuming anything acidic out of copper is dangerous.

man squeezing lemon into a copper pot

According to the Model Food Code of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is unsafe to consume any food with a pH of less than 6.0 that has come into direct contact with copper and copper alloys, including brass. Experts note that Moscow mules have a pH "well under this level," making them risky to regularly consume from such a cup.

Similarly, wine, many types of fruit, vinegar, tomatoes and many other foods have a pH of less than 6.0, and could begin to leach copper from cups, pots, or pans made from the material. Experts advise practicing caution if you regularly use cooking utensils made from this particular metal.

Look out for these signs of copper poisoning.

woman lying in bed, feeling unwell, with her hand on her head. Sickness / illness concept. Coronavirus / fever / headache concept. Home isolation.

Though too much copper can pose a danger to your health, it's important to note that copper is a necessary dietary ingredient in moderation. "Ingesting copper is not entirely bad," explain KHN experts. "It's found in shellfish, beans, nuts, and whole grains and sold in dietary supplements. It's been shown to help prevent anemia and osteoporosis, among other ailments," they add.

However, consuming unsafe levels over long periods of time can lead to serious symptoms, and can ultimately result in kidney failure in severe cases. People with copper poisoning may experience nausea, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, and irritation to the mouth, nose, and eyes, says WebMD.

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There are safe alternatives to copper mugs.

Frosty, nickel-lined copper mug

Cocktail aficionados argue that the flavor of a Moscow mule is enhanced by the frosty copper vessel it's served in. As the copper oxidizes, it adds to the drink's aroma and effervescence, they say.

However, this doesn't mean you're bound to tradition when it comes to your barware—there's a safe alternative if you're after the classic cocktail look. Opt for a copper mug that's lined with stainless steel or nickel on the inside, which creates a safe barrier to keep the copper from your beverage, suggest KHN experts.

And remember—while it may seem safer to drink a Moscow mule in under 27 minutes from a metal toxicity perspective, rushing through cocktails is a health hazard in its own right. Serving it in a safe mug will put your mind at ease so you can enjoy your drink at your own pace.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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