Robert H. Schiestl, PhD, professor of pathology, environmental health and radiation oncology at UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health in Los Angeles. UCLA.edu
The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently warned that consuming very hot beverages could increase esophageal cancer risk. It reached this conclusion after a review of 59 studies.
Beverages with temperatures above 149° Fahrenheit (65° Celsius) can scald the esophagus, the section of the digestive system that connects the throat to the stomach. This scalding appears to increase cancer risk. Less research has been done on the dangers of eating very hot foods, but it is reasonable to speculate that this probably carries similar scalding potential and esophageal cancer risk.
Smart response: There is no need to give up hot foods and drinks. Evidence suggests that this cancer risk exists only when beverages (and potentially foods) are regularly consumed at temperatures above 149°F. It is uncommon in North America and Europe to consume foods and beverages that hot—coffee and tea generally are consumed at temperatures no higher than 140°F, for example. At 150°F, your mouth and tongue would feel as if it were being burned. Consuming extremely hot beverages is more common in China, Iran, Turkey and much of South America.
Coffee, tea and foods are occasionally served at temperatures above 149°F in North America and Europe, however. If your initial sip or bite burns your mouth, be sure to wait a bit before consuming the rest. There’s no need to worry that this initial sip or bite could cause cancer—the danger seems to develop only when very hot drinks or foods are consumed chronically, not occasionally.