The hidden dangers of bagged tea

the hidden dangers of bagges tea

Chamomile, mint, rooibos, oh my! I love tea. Everyday tea. Tea to help calm my muscles. Tea to help me wake up. Tea to help my body detox. Tea tea tea.

OK I think you get the point.

Now I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that my heart broke when I recently learned that there exists a hidden danger in bagged tea. While I use loose tea on occasion, bagged tea is a teensy-bit more convenient, and so it’s what I typically grab at the grocery store. Though I am sure to choose organic tea so as to avoid pesticides, this may unfortunately be completely moot if the tea is bagged.

Plastic tea bags

Some newer teas have plastic bags, which are often pyramid-shaped and, I have to admit, are pretty darn cool looking. These are commonly made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), two of the safest polymers in terms of leaching potential. The Atlantic explains that though both also have very high melting points, there is another temperature point for plastics that needs to be considered: the “glass transition” temperature (Tg), the temperature at which the molecules of materials begin to break down. The Tg of a material is typically lower than its melting point. The Tg of PET is about 169°F, and the Tg of nylon is 116°F. Since water boils at 212°F, this is a major issue: the Tg of PET and nylon are exceeded.

“If the question is, ‘As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?’ ‘the answer is yes,’ said Dr. Ray Fernando, professor and director of polymers and coatings at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.”

Paper tea bags

If you’re like me, at this point you may be going, “Phew! Thank goodness I stay away from those fancy-pants pyramid tea bags.” But not so fast. To prevent paper tea bags from disintegrating or tearing, many are treated with epichlorohydrin, a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins that is considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Epichlorohydrin is also used as a pesticide.

When epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it “hydrolyzes” (science-speak for decompose) to 3-MCPD, a known carcinogen that has also been linked to in infertility and suppressed immune function. This is an issue considering that tea bags are intended to be completely submerged in water.

How can we protect ourselves?

Cut loose! You can find a great variety of organic loose teas online on Amazon and also on Mountain Rose Herbs, which has really great prices for bulk tea.

For brewing loose tea, I have this stainless steel twisting tea ball, which is great for individual cups of tea. It is super convenient since you can just scoop the tea with the ball, close it up and plop it in your teacup!

Sources: The Atlantic and Dr. Mercola.

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  1. Is it safer if I discard the paper bag portion of the tea and use only the inside tea as loose tea since I still have a lot of tea bags.

  2. Great question, Tok. Go for it! The issue with both the plastic and paper tea bags seems to be when the bag is subjected to water so it seems like this would be fine.

  3. So disappointing to learn I cannot count on my tea bags! Sheesh! Just when you think you’re doing a good job… I like the idea of cutting the bags open, though, since they are very convenient pre-measured containers for one serving of tea. There are some neat glass mugs here and there around the internet that claim to strain the loose tea as you drink them — that sounds pretty cool. Anyone tried them?

  4. i know The Republic of Tea uses natural, unbleached tea bags for their bagged tea- i would like to think that “natural” also means not treated with other stuff either, but you never know these days! might be worth checking them out, they have amazing tea! and they sell all of their tea loose as well.

  5. David’s tea filters are made with biodegradable, chlorine free, compostable mailla hemp??? that’s all is says on the package, now I wonder?????

  6. Hmm I feel like the company is obviously very eco-conscious and I would be surprised if they did use epichlorohydrin, but the only way to find out would be to call and ask!

  7. I stopped drinking tea a while ago for no reason and I found that my bladder problems stopped as well!!!Coincidence?I used only teabags!!

  8. Stash Tea company also has loose bulk tea and pots and tea balls, reasonably priced and many to choose from. I am still going to use my good old Lipton Tea Bags, that is my favorite and something is going to get me anyway, LOL!

  9. You can also get these small ‘tongs’ which are shaped like two teaspoons facing eachother. They have holes all over and all you do is squize open pickup the loose leaves and put in tea cup and pour hot water over. Allow to steep.

  10. Steeped Tea is a company that has cups with built in diffusers as well. Along with some awesome flavored natural teas. !!!!

  11. If the tea is organic does that mean the paper bag it’s in is organic and safe too? Or no?

  12. I drink Yogi teas. Anyone know if they are OK? I tried looking at their website but couldn’t find a very user-friendly site map that would tell me if the tea bags were treated with anything or not. Is there a site that lists which teas use these chemicals?

  13. Hi, Susan. I also searched around a bit and could not find anything. Perhaps I will give them a call and ask as I also drink their teas!

  14. Would it be ok to cut the tea bag and use the tea inside, since I have lots of tea bags. Or is that tea too fine to use in a diffuser?

  15. Hi, Diane. Good question and one I was curious about too. I tried it out and it seems that the tea is too fine for my strainer, but perhaps it would work with the muslin bags Linda suggests. These reusable bags are available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/13h2LwN

  16. the tea in bagged tea is often the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality, there are many a joke in Chinese that tea bags are the “sweepings of the floor”. Tea balls often constrain the tea restricting water’s movement through the leaves and inhibiting the steeping process. I highly recommend using a french press with loose tea. Its so easy to do and serve and clean!

  17. so what about Keurig teas and coffee “bags” the soft paper kind, not the plastic cups. They are organic, but does that mean anything?

  18. Are you aware that most of the teas on the market today are full of pesticides/?? Facebook just posted an article about which ones are good… which isn’t many…. wish I had the link to send you … I will look for it and try to repost..

  19. Can anyone address the issue of radiation in tea. I saw somethung about the fact that all teas that are not American grown contain radiation and most tea American grown are pestacide laden. Now this. I love Salada, and can’t find anything like it organic, that is American grown.

  20. Not a problem, I have always (thankfully) just cut open my tea bag and dumped the tea right in the cup, then strain it out and drink! I never wanted the BAG to steep along with my organic tea, unbleached or not, ick,….. intuition score!!! So, don’t toss your tea, strain it, or get a tea ball, and carry on! I avoid papers because they are always treated with something,.. this includes parchment paper, just use butter to grease and save the parchment paper money!

  21. I recently found this notification from the EU that rejected a shipment of stainless steel tea infuser balls from Taiwan because nickel was leeching from them in to the tea. http://unsafefood.eu/notification/2012.AJJ

    Do other tea infusers have leeching metals we do not know about? I do not trust the US Government to screen tea infuser balls manufactured in Asia for metal leeching (very little safety testing is done on imported goods), which means I don’t trust stainless steel tea balls on the market here in the US.

    Apparently titanium is a very safe bet as far as leeching is concerned, but the only ones I have found had plastic or nylon in the tea infuser. Are there any pure titanium tea infusers on the market that anyone knows of?

  22. Here is a chart that includes some popular tea brands and indicates whether or not they contain pesticides and additives.

    With all this being said, you may be feeling a little down in the dumps, but don’t worry! There is an upside to all of this. There are some trustworthy companies that provide quality organic teas to its consumers by monitoring the amount of pesticides and also using sustainable farming methods and fair trade standards. Some of these include: Teatulia, Numi, Zhyna’s Gypsy Tea, Choice Organics, Traditional Medicinals, Rishi and many many more; you just have to look. Even though brands like this are a little more expensive than the conventional ones, it is well worth it. Not only will you be getting the full benefit that the tea has to offer, you will be supporting ethical, sustainable and organic farming practices. The more people that switch to brands like these, the greater push conventional brands will feel to start changing their practices and principles and get with the changing times!

    Tea can definitely be a great way to boost your health.

  23. crap the chart didn’t copy for you guys 🙁 sorry! there was a lot! lets try this…Let’s take a look at some of the tea brands that contain the highest pesticide levels. Celestial Seasonings is among the worst; this makes me especially sad because I’ve always loved this tea brand (you can probably tell by my extensive collection). There’s just something so whimsical about the name Celestial Seasonings… Anyway, in a study conducted by EuroFins (a worldwide analytic testing company) 91% of Celestial Seasonings teas contained levels of pesticides that exceed the US federal limits. Considering all of the other toxins and poisons that the FDA lets slide by, this is very alarming. When Celestial Seasonings started in 1969, it was “founded on the belief that all natural teas could help people live healthier lives.” Maybe that was the case in 1969 because there weren’t as many pesticides being sprayed, but in this day and age we have to be wary of the products we are consuming.

    Other notable teas containing toxic pesticides include: Tetley, Bigelow, Mighty Leaf, Teavanna, Tazo, Davids Tea and many more. Not only do many of these teas contain these toxic pesticides, many of them contain artificial flavorings as well. Also, a popular way to mask undesirable sounding ingredients is to tent them under the umbrella of “natural flavouring,” any ingredient that comes from a natural origin falls under this category. So, additives such as: Castoreum (a chemical taken out of glands from a beaver that are located near the anus,) Carmine aka Natural Red #4 (made from dried and ground up Cochina beetles, gives foods a red color,) and many more. Just because something says all natural doesn’t mean that it is a good thing for you to consume. Be sure to thoroughly read ingredient labels before purchasing; be aware of what you’re putting into your body.

  24. Thank you, I’m stunned. I guess we simply cannot buy anything without researching it. I drink at least 3 herbal tea bags a day (in about 4 qts of water). Darn it, I’ve two full ‘organic’ peppermint tea and half box ‘organic’ red tea from Whole Foods, and an unopened Tazo tin.

    I better load up on bulk teas IF and WHEN I can find them … Santa Monica Co-Op has some, but nothing like the HUGE variety you find in ‘organic’ herbal tea bags. I guess I gotta call/write Yogi and Traditional Medicines, my faves. Otherwise, finding bulk organic herbal teas is very pricey, mostly only online. Sigh.

  25. I wondered about Teavana. Their flavors seemed rather un-natural, not like you find anywhere else. They’ve a few stores near me, but I’ll avoid them. Oy.

  26. The source of this information was “third-party analysis by Glaucus Research.” Glaucus Research is what is known as a short seller. This means that Glaucus makes money if stocks fall. At the time Teavana was the most shorted stock on the New York Stock Exchange. In this case, they stood to reap significant financial reward if Celestial Seasonings and Teavana took a hit. This note was printed at the beginning of the Teavana report: “We are short Teavana and therefore stand to realize significant gains in the event that the price of stock declines.” Does this make the information false on its face? Not necessarily, but it is critical to note the conflict of this organization being presented as an independent, unbiased source.

    Celestial Seasonings responded strongly to the allegations, posting a statement of Product Safety Assurance on their website. Following the Glaucus report and subsequent re-posting of the information they submitted their products for testing at the National Food Lab (NFL). NFL did not detect any pesticides and gave assurances that the products meet industry standards and are safe. Celestial Seasonings also cited their protocols for testing all of their product ingredients for pesticides, herbicides and insecticides and its industry audits for Safe Quality Foods (SQF) certifications.

    Teavana also noted its ongoing program of third-party testing and its adherence to standards set by organizations including the European Union which is known to be particularly stringent. They were quick to note Glaucus’s conflict of interest and it was notable that the report was released as Teavana was preparing to be sold to Starbucks.

  27. Hi Nadia, I know I’m late to this article but was hoping you had an answer for me. I was a long time tobacco chewer/dipper, but quit 4 years ago. I was wondering if chewing or really just holding a tea bag in my mouth, as you would with tobacco, but using tea bags from the grocery store instead,if that is safe? It’s more of an oral fixation for me I don’t crave tobacco just the act of it is something I miss, and was wondering if it is healthy or not to try this. Thank you for your time and hope to hear from you. 🙂

  28. this seems incomplete. it would have been a better article if you had done a survey of organic tea manufacturers to see whether or not they create bags with plastic in them

  29. This is very interesting and if my mother were living she would say – “I told you so.” 🙂
    In 2006 she died a youthful, wise, healthy woman at 96. We always had bulk tea in our home. For awhile (maybe 1970’s) she began using bagged tea. One day she suddenly decided the ingredients used to make those bags were not safe and never again used them. Because I never can find bulk tea, I resort to individual bags but once again I’m returning to bulk. I have already began cutting my bags open and storing my bulk tea in a trendy, tightly sealed glass jar. No turning back for me. Do enjoy my daily black tea.

  30. Hi . I am a tea drinker ..over 10 cups a day. Recently , here in Canada a study was done, the main topic being pesticides in tea. The only one that passed the test was Red Rose and that is what I drink. I refer you to the study. https://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/blog/full-tea-test-results
    Now, there is the concern of plastic use in bags as well. This is all troubling. I will be contacting Red Rose tomorrow to find out if indeed they are plastic free. In the meantime , I am hoping that by cutting open my tea bags , and using a strainer, that it will help me eliminate this problem .
    Thank you so much for this article. It is much needed in today’s world. I believe that it is just this kind of thing, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics in animals , etc that is the cause of all the cancers. We need to get back to old farming methods.