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Q&AZ: Is it safe to make and drink your own sun tea in Arizona?

Through KJZZ's Q&AZ reporting project, a listener asked: Is it safe to make and drink your own sun tea in Arizona?

The drink is made by placing tea bags in a large clear container full of water and putting it outside in direct sunlight to brew, rather than boiling water with a kettle. While Arizona's weather makes it the perfect place for making sun tea, the brewing method actually poses some health risks.

Frank Gonzales is senior public health sanitarian at the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

“What makes sun tea unsafe is if the water doesn’t reach a high enough temperature during the steeping process to kill any bacteria that might be in the water or on the tea leaves and or inside the jar itself," he said.

Even on a hot Arizona day, the temperature in the jar is unlikely to exceed 130 degrees, which isn’t hot enough to kill bacteria like E.coli, whereas standard-brewed tea boils around 212 degrees.

He said those who do make sun tea should use a glass jar instead of plastic (to avoid chemicals from the plastic seeping into the tea), wash their hands before handling the tea bags, and leave the tea outside for no longer than two hours.

"[They should] refrigerate the tea after brewing," he said, "[and] make enough tea to consume as soon as possible. If the tea becomes cloudy, thick, syrupy or stringy, please discard the tea to avoid any food born illness."

Q&AZ answers more listener questions

Senior field correspondent Bridget Dowd has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.