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Moscow Mule Mugs May Be Cute but Could Pose a Huge Health Risk
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12 Aug 2017 09:04 PM EST

-by Chanel Adams, Staff Writer; Image: Copper mug holding a Moscow Mule (Image Source: Will Shenton via Wikimedia Commons)

Those cute and trendy copper Moscow Mules could be dangerous.

Health officials in Iowa revealed that the popular mugs could give users food poisoning. Most people use them to drink alcohol out of them, but these cups could cause more than a hangover.

The state's Alcoholic Beverages Division made the announcement after investigating the amount of poison in copper and copper alloys mixed with food and liquids.

According to the Food and Drug Administration's Moral Food Code, copper is prohibited from coming into direct contact with foods that have a pH level below 6.0. Liquids with a level below 6.0 include fruit juices, wine, and vinegar. Copper poisoning can include serious symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach pains, vomiting, and yellowing of the skin.

"When copper and copper alloy surfaces contact acidic foods, copper may be leached into the food," according to the Alcoholic Beverages Division's statement.

Cocktails consumed in Moscow Mules fall below this standard. This warning comes after Moscow Mules have increased in popularity on social media. Many users take to Instagram and Pinterest to share photos of their shiny and attractive mugs. They have replaced the previously popular glass Mason Jars.

However, there is no reason for concern. Trisha Andrew, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at UMass Amherst, told HuffPost that consumers should not be concerned about the study.

"Any time you have any liquid in contact with a surface, there's a possibility that the container is going to be dissolved a little bit into the liquid," Andrew said. "With glass, the rate of dissolution is so slow that you'll never see it in our lifetime. But when you have a metal container, like copper – which a lot more dissolvable than other materials – it happens more quickly."

The announcement advises only against food that shouldn't come in contact with copper. Lime juice cocktails, margaritas, and mojitos are just some of the most popular drinks consumed in Moscow Mule cups. A typical recipe for a Moscow Mule drink contains ½ ounce of lime juice, 2 ounces of vodka, and 4 to 6 ounces of ginger beer. Lime juice has a pH level of 2.0 to 2.4, which is lower than the bulletin's recommended level.

Vodka has a pH level between 6.0 to 7.0. Ginger beer is below 6.0, and all the ingredients combined in a Moscow Mule has a pH level below 6.0. A Moscow Mule cocktail is corrosive to copper. Andrew explains to HuffPost what that means.

"What happens is, especially acidic solutions solvate the atoms from the surface of the container into the solution and it makes ions," explains Andrew. "Copper that's dissolved is no longer copper in its metallic state, but it's a copper(II) or a copper(I)."

"Copper(I) is known to be very toxic," Andrew elaborated. "But humans need copper(II) in some small amount in order to survive in their regular biochemical functions. Actually we have enzymes in our body that are part of our regular biological processes that have copper(II) as part of their chemical structure."

Copper is not entirely bad. However, if you leave a drink in a copper mug for several days, then it could have dangerous levels of copper in it. As the old adage goes, drink safely.

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