Cafes Throughout Israel Move to Replace Espresso Machines Amid Lead Warning

Israeli government warns it had found high levels of lead in coffee made by many of the devices recently inspected, without specifying particular machines or cafe chains.

File photo: A coffee machine.
Bloomberg

Israeli café chains moved quickly on Wednesday to inspect and replace their espresso machines after the government warned it had found high levels of lead in coffee made by many of the devices it had recently inspected.

The warning, which came in a joint statement from the Health Ministry and the Economy and Industry Ministry, didn’t specify which machines produce coffee with lead over the level designated as safe, nor did it say which chains used them.

However, they warned people to reduce their consumption of coffee from cafes, restaurants and other institutional kitchens until a more comprehensive inspection of machines was completed, over the next month. They urged pregnant women to refrain altogether from commercially prepared coffee, citing the especially high potential risk to the fetus.

“It should be stressed that there is no immediate danger, nevertheless while the inspection is being undertaken and as a precaution, the Health Ministry recommends reducing coffee consumption from institutional machines until the investigation is completed,” the two ministries said.

The warning comes amid heightened enforcement of food safety in Israel after a series of warnings and recalls last year following the belated discovery of salmonella in some breakfast cereals made by Telma. Supersol, Israel’s biggest supermarket chain, said Wednesday it was recalling private-label packages of frozen peas and carrots over listeria concerns.

Israel’s cafe chains responded quickly to the warning, with promises to replace suspect machines immediately. Ministry sources that the two makes suspected of high lead levels were Bianchi, which is imported from Italy, and La Favorita, which is manufactured in Israel.

Roladin Bakery and Cafe said it only four of its 64 branches needed to replace devices and vowed to do so by the end of the day.

Cafe Greg said it would replace the Italian-imported Fiamma machines used at half its outlets by Wednesday afternoon even though the make was not specifically cited. Ilan’s Coffee said that based on its own inspection, it didn’t believe any of its machines were suspect.

Cafe Cafe said it had determined that only 13 of its 157 branches used La Favorita machines.

“The Health Ministry hasn’t yet identified which models of La Favorita are suspected of having a problem,” it said. “Even though we haven’t received explicit instructions from any official body, we have instructed [franchisees] to replace the machines and the chain is working right now to deliver new ones to branches.”

Under Health Ministry regulations, machines that produce beverages with 20 or more micrograms of lead per liter are banned from use. Those with 10 to 20 micrograms can be used but components must be replaced within six months.

The health and economy ministries said a preliminary inspection of 25 machines that prompted the warning found that about 30% met health standards of 10 micrograms or less and another 20% had between 10 and 20 micrograms. The remainder had 20 to 150 micrograms.

Excessive lead exposure can cause high blood pressure and damage kidneys and the reproductive systems in adults.In children, lead exposure can retard brain development and cause attention deficit disorders.