Is it safe to drink coffee if you can't drink the tap water on a plane?

Ever see the sign in an aircraft toilet that says "water not suitable for drinking?" That's because repeated studies have shown the presence of harmful pathogens in aircraft water. As well as bacteria that can cause digestive problems, the list includes some that have been reported to cause septicaemia.

Well, guess what – the water used to make coffee and tea onboard comes from the same tank. Media outlets have leapt on this information with dire warnings of the terrors that lurk within aircraft coffee. So if the water quality is downright dangerous, why isn't every passenger who drinks a hot bevvie on an aircraft soon doubled over in agony or queueing for the toilet? That's because studies that test aircraft water overlook one important fact.

The water tested comes straight from the tap, while the water used to make tea and coffee is boiled. And according to the US Centers for Disease Control, common intestinal pathogens are rendered inactive by heat. Some of these pathogens will die at temperatures as low as 60 degrees.

By the time water reaches boiling point the threat from waterborne pathogens is eliminated and the water is safe to drink. Woeful as it is, I shall continue to drink tea and coffee when I fly, as I have for several decades, with no ill effects. And by the way, note that some pathogens such as listeria can survive freezing temperatures. Ice can be contaminated, and who knocks back the free ice-creams when the crew hand them out?

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