The recent story of a coffee shop in Los Angeles and their espresso machine blowing up, resulting in a few customers having hospital treatment, highlights how important health and safety is and home machine safety is nothing to be sniffed at.
Let’s face it, usually when we are looking for a new coffee machine, the brewing, the bar pressure and special features are at the top of our ‘must’ have features list. Health and safety isn’t usually the first thing that springs to mind when we buy, but the fact that we are inviting more and more domestic, electrical appliances into our homes, it definitely should be.
The Main Issues:
- Poor equipment and system design
- Lack of maintenance of equipment
- Inadequate repairs or modifications
- Absence of automatic safety features
Features to look out for:
For the more forgetful of us. This safety feature automatically turns off the coffee machine and the hot plate (if the machine has one) so the coffee doesn’t burn or start a fire.
Pressure Relief Valve
This is so important, even the best espresso maker can have issues if it doesn’t have this feature. The valve has a spring which presses against a piston. The piston forms a seal against its seat, which keeps the flow of water through its normal path. If the pressure becomes too great, the pressure of the water pushes the piston upwards against the force of the spring, allowing some portion of the water to flow through. This can result in scalding or in the case of the above coffee shop, an explosion. This is arguably the most important of the safety features.
Other Safety Tips
Ensure coffee makers are turned off at the end of the day (even those with automatic shutoffs). Making sure you unplug the machine from the electrical outlet is the best method of ensuring that it is off. The timers on coffee machines are no guarantee of safety, so switching off completely, is the best option.
Always ensure that you place the coffee maker on a non-combustible surface, and keep flammables away from it (curtains, paper towels etc.).
If your steam wand gets really hot, fit a wand grip. This is a rubber tube that fits around the steam wand for safe handling.
Black coffee has the greatest risk of burns, because of its higher temperature, so reduce your fill-line when making.
There are even issues with cafetières, if an espresso-grind coffee is used, the particles can be too close to allow the coffee liquid to pass through. This can result in a piston effect, with very hot coffee being squirted up the sides of the cafetière.
Not for Children
If you have young children, make sure the machine is placed on a higher surface. These machines reach high temperatures and can result in serious burns if not handled correctly.