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Caps -- To Sanitize, or Not to Sanitize?

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Caps -- To Sanitize or Not to Sanitize?

  • I always sanitize my caps, are you kidding?

  • It's really not necessary.


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Pelikan

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Seems like this is a fairly polarized issue among home brewers. Some swear by sanitizing caps, and will never do a batch without their star san bowl. Others just pluck them right out of the bag and roll with it.

I, personally, am in the latter group, primarily because I use oxygen barrier caps that are activated by moisture. I've done hundreds of bottles at this point, and have yet to find one single case of contamination.

I'm curious, though, to hear about others' experience in this regard, being that it comes up time and again.
 

Yooper

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I suppose you can get away without sanitizing just about anything- maybe. Is it worth losing $40 worth of ingredients and 6 weeks of time, just so you don't have to dunk your caps in some star-san? Not to me!
 

bottle-o-jeff

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In a recent episode of Basic Brewing Radio, James Spencer got in touch with the manufacturer of the oxygen barrier caps. While the oxygen absorbing caps are activated by moisture, the effect happens on the order of hours or days, not minutes. The manufacturer said that sanitizing them prior to use will not adversely affect their ability to absorb oxygen (so long as all sanitized caps are used).

That being said, I sanitize.
 
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Pelikan

Pelikan

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It's not so much a matter of laziness in my case, but because the O2 caps are impacted not only by the moisture, but the acid sanitizer as well (loses effectiveness). Even though the O2 process occurs over an extended period of time, I can't imagine star san et al has a positive impact on the O2 membrane. To emphasize, the manufacturer said it won't "adversely" impact the caps, but realistically that can mean just about anything in legalese.

Either way, has there actually been a documented case of an entire batch -- or even a single bottle -- being spoiled by a failure to sanitize caps? My thinking is that it takes a fairly large concentration of wild cells to overcome both the yeast and the alcohol in fermented beer. We're talking something along the lines of a piece of organic debris, dirty lines, dirty equipment, dirty hands in the beer, etc etc etc. But so long as the cap bags are kept closed, and people aren't fingering up the inside of the caps, I really can't see caps being a significant vector for contamination.
 

Yooper

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Either way, has there actually been a documented case of an entire batch -- or even a single bottle -- being spoiled by a failure to sanitize caps? My thinking is that it takes a fairly large concentration of wild cells to overcome both the yeast and the alcohol in fermented beer. We're talking something along the lines of a piece of organic debris, dirty lines, dirty equipment, dirty hands in the beer, etc etc etc. But so long as the cap bags are kept closed, I really can't see caps being a significant vector for contamination.
Well, probably not. I mean, how do you determine that a lacto infection is caused by unsanitized caps vs having crushed grain in the same room? Or how do you decide that the caps caused the issue, but maybe not the spigot in the bottling bucket? How could you possibly know for sure, unless you had an autoclave and everything was sterile (including the room) except for the caps? You'd never know.

I've made over 250 batches of beer, and probably that much wine, without an infection. Is it because I sanitized my caps? Probably not. But it sure didn't hurt.
 
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Pelikan

Pelikan

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Well, probably not. I mean, how do you determine that a lacto infection is caused by unsanitized caps vs having crushed grain in the same room?
I suppose one way might be to ask someone that doesn't sanitize caps "How often do you get infected bottles?" If their rates of infection are as low or lower when compared to a cap sanitizer, then one can reasonably assume caps are not the issue.

That aside, I see the argument in favor of sanitizing caps. But to me it seems like a "more harm than good" proposition.
 

cheeseshark

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I think risking an infected batch by skipping something that takes very minimal effort counts as more harm than good in my book. In other words, I think since I sanitize everything else, why in the world wouldn't I sanitize something that is going to be in direct contact with my beer for weeks or months? I mean, you sanitize new bottles, right? Both of these things touch your beer.
 

Schlenkerla

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Its probably not real critical, but as easy as hell so why not.

I usually have sanitizer made up for my bottling equipment; bottles, bottling bucket, filler wand, auto siphon, hydrometer and wine thief. Therefore its pretty much a no-brainer to add the caps. The worst thing about it is counting to 48.

With that said, when I dry hop I don't bother sanitizing the hops. :D
 

hcarter

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I don't. Now, I've only done 3 batches, but I didn't sanitize any of the caps, and I didn't have any infections. I've also used the same primary and carboy to make wine as well. So far, I've only replaced the tubing. I've never had an infected bottle of wine either.
 
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Pelikan

Pelikan

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I guess this is just one of those polarized issues. But now I'm thinking "Hmmm, maybe I should start sanitizing caps." Who knows.
 

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My thinking is that it takes a fairly large concentration of wild cells to overcome both the yeast and the alcohol in fermented beer. We're talking something along the lines of a piece of organic debris, dirty lines, dirty equipment, dirty hands in the beer, etc etc etc.
So speaking of documented cases, where does it state that to have bottle contamination you have to have a "piece of organic debris", etc? Alcohol isn't immediately destructive to all microbes...acetobacter actually feed on it.

But so long as the cap bags are kept closed, and people aren't fingering up the inside of the caps, I really can't see caps being a significant vector for contamination.
Cap bags aren't sterile; before or after opening. Neither is the cap-making process.

If you put one bullet in a .357, you may get away with pulling the trigger 5 out of 6 times, but just pulling the trigger once isn't a smart thing to do.

I'm with Yooper...why risk the time and money involved? Sanitize EVERYTHING that comes in contact (even potentially) with the beer post-boil.
 

planenut

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pretty simple to drop them into some starsan mixture before capping and have peace of mind. Heck, I even sanitize them if I'm bottling some to drink the same day. It is just too easy.

I understand the oxygen barrier caps and corks are a different matter and there are reasons for not getting them wet.
 

flyangler18

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That aside, I see the argument in favor of sanitizing caps. But to me it seems like a "more harm than good" proposition.
Why? Because of the possible slight degradation in the efficacy of your oxygen-barrier caps which, as indicated in the referenced BBR podcast, is a moot point? In my opinion, even the brief 30 second contact time necessary to achieve kill with StarSan with respect to the integrity of the seal is not enough to warrant sloppy, Russian-roulette style bottling technique.

This is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. Best practice is to sanitize everything that contacts your beer pre- and post- ferment; to not sanitize the one thing that, besides the bottle, has the longest contact time is simply asinine.

To get you thinking about this, how do you know a latent infection hasn't made its way in? Spoilage organisms take considerable time (Brettanomyces can take upwards of a year) to express themselves in both the flavor and appearance of the packaged beer and you may be deluding yourself in thinking that, by not sanitizing, you've avoided the introduction of any microbes.
 

Edcculus

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I put this in the Brew Science forum, but I'll repeat it here. I thought I heard in a BBR podcast that when they asked the manufacturer about getting the caps wet, they said its not a problem. Apparently the reaction is slow. It takes a few days for it to do its thing. Therefore, the short amount of time it is wet at bottling will not degrade its ability to absorb oxygen.
 

ohiobrewtus

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Best practice is to sanitize everything that contacts your beer pre- and post- ferment;
Absolutely. Any detriment that you think you're doing to the O2 caps could quickly be offset by not sanitizing them.

Who knows how many people handle them before they get packaged in a bag and sent off?
 

Tonedef131

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Why would you not sanitize something that your beer is going to coming in direct contact with?
 

Edcculus

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Why would you not sanitize something that your beer is going to coming in direct contact with?
Thats the way I see it. If I am going through so much trouble to keep everything sanitized and clean, why the hell wouldn't I sanitize the caps? I might as well let my cat play in my bottling bucket right before I rack the beer over. No need to boil the priming sugar either, just dump that **** right in. Clean the carboy, why bother?

I guess I don't use the 02 absorbing caps though. If I was REALLY concerned with oxygen getting to my beer, I would fill bottles via counterpressure filler from a keg and cap on the foam.
 

bottle-o-jeff

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It's not so much a matter of laziness in my case, but because the O2 caps are impacted not only by the moisture, but the acid sanitizer as well (loses effectiveness). Even though the O2 process occurs over an extended period of time, I can't imagine star san et al has a positive impact on the O2 membrane. To emphasize, the manufacturer said it won't "adversely" impact the caps, but realistically that can mean just about anything in legalese.
I think you're reading too much into my choice of words. The manufacturer said that sanitizing prior to use will not hurt the O2 barrier caps. I wouldn't expect that Star-san has a positive impact, just as I wouldn't expect that it has a negative impact.

The only caution was to only sanitize the ones that you plan to use. If you sanitize one and then don't use it, the oxygen absorbing part become worthless.
 

brewt00l

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I'm pretty sure all the bags of caps at my LHBS are re-packaged by the guys there.....never watched them fill the bags but I am guessing it's not exactly a guaranteed sterile process ;)
 
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Pelikan

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Whoa...some of you guys need to throttle it back a bit. :mug: I wasn't trying to start an impotent forum argument over this topic, just get a dialogue going. I appreciate the info, aggressive tones aside.

My thinking is that we're bottling with open bottling buckets, in the open air; racking in open air; pitching in open air...not in a glove box. To assume that not a single foreign cell will end up in the batch is folly -- they're floating down from the great aether all the time.

So the hypothesis went as follows: Provided one uses reasonable capping practices/cap handling/storage, the probability of a cap to add significantly to the chance of contamination is very low (much lower, in fact, when compared to bottling in the open, etc); the chance for an acid sanitizer to impact the integrity of any cap, whether it be oxygen or not, is potentially higher. Therefore, sanitizing caps may be a "more harm than good" proposition.

This is just my logic. It might be flawed. Hell, it's probably flawed. But no need to do the whole personal attack thing -- homebrewtalk is better than that, say I! :mug:
 

Schlenkerla

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Whoa...some of you guys need to throttle it back a bit. :mug: I wasn't trying to start an impotent forum argument over this topic, just get a dialogue going. I appreciate the info, aggressive tones aside....... But no need to do the whole personal attack thing. - homebrewtalk is better than that, say I! :mug:
I don't know what you are talking about here. I didn't see any personal attacks.

Some people think its so easy to sanitize and the analysis is like making a mountain out of a mole hill.

My question to you is how many batches have you made that warrant O2 absorbing caps.

I use regular caps on my bottled beer and never detected oxidation. I make cider and use those same caps and its more prone to oxidation than beer and I still never detect oxidation. This is on aged cider 18 months or more.
 

PseudoChef

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I'm with the OP...I don't sanitize my caps and I've never had a problem. I guess I am just lazy. Oh well. When I see a problem that I can directly link to unsanitized caps, I'll change my procedure. As for now, meh.
 

GilaMinumBeer

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I sanitize. The O2 caps are slow acting.

Why "risk" a bottle infection by skipping such a simple action. Spritz and cap, done!

I'd compare not sanitizing a bottle cap to not sanitizing a keg lid. Same thing. Same risk.
 
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Pelikan

Pelikan

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I don't know what you are talking about here. I didn't see any personal attacks.
Last page. Mindset and methodology referred to as delusional and asinine. Negative tone pretty easy to see. Not at all worth dwelling on.

My question to you is how many batches have you made that warrant O2 absorbing caps.
The O2 caps are pennies more when compared to standard caps. Worth the upgrade, IMHO. Can I say that O2 caps offer a dramatic benefit over standard caps? No. But the argument in favor of sanitizing caps is "do whatever you can," so that's what I'm doing.

I use regular caps on my bottled beer and never detected oxidation. I make cider and use those same caps and its more prone to oxidation than beer and I still never detect oxidation. This is on aged cider 18 months or more.
In that case, perhaps I'll consider switching to standard caps, or sanitizing my O2 caps. Thanks for the input. :mug:
 

flyangler18

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Last page. Mindset and methodology referred to as delusional and asinine. Negative tone pretty easy to see. Not at all worth dwelling on.
As I was the one who typed the supposed 'personal attacks', I'll respond and set the record straight. It wasn't a personal attack, rather an expression of opinion. If I've offended your sensibilities, for that I apologize. But I still stand by the rest of my analysis. The 30 seconds it takes to sanitize bottlecaps, oxygen barrier or otherwise, is a simple insurance policy. While I'll admit that while the risk of infection may be so low as to be insignificant, I want to insure long-term stability and quality. For me, that means a quick spritz with some StarSan before capping.

Regarding the O2 caps, the only time I've ever seen reason to use them was for long-term aging of big beers like a barleywine; regular caps suit the rest of my bottling needs.
 

Schlenkerla

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As I was the one who typed the supposed 'personal attacks', I'll respond and set the record straight. It wasn't a personal attack, rather an expression of opinion. If I've offended your sensibilities, for that I apologize. But I still stand by the rest of my analysis..
I never took that as an attack just a firm belief in sanitizing. Within reason anything that touches beer or wort should be extremely clean or sanitized.

I have a friend who doesn't sanitize anything, but he has a hose connected to a dedicated water heater with the temp cranked to the max. Probably 160F. His equipment is as clean as it gets.

I said this earlier tongue in cheek, we don't sanitize hops for dry hopping.
 

flyangler18

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I have a friend who doesn't sanitize anything, but he has a hose connected to a dedicated water heater with the temp cranked to the max. Probably 160F. His equipment is as clean as it gets.
And there's certainly something to be said for that! ;)

There are probably lots of examples of processes that we employ that are 'neurotic ceremonials', repeated because they are comforting. Maybe sanitizing caps can be categorized as one of those things, I dunno. Sanitizing everything that touches my beer up to packaging is just automatic- I don't think about it, I just do it.

I don't like cutting corners and taking unnecessary risks in my process, ya dig? The risk of infecting a batch is pretty small after the ferment, but why take the chance and get sloppy? Ever read JZ's article in Zymurgy about his maggot keg? You have to balance RDWHAHB with good solid technique. :mug:

Jason
 

gratus fermentatio

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It makes sense to me to sanitize crown caps. I've never used oxygen absorbing caps, but if I ever see a need for it, i'll sanitize them too. By bottling time I have too much time, effort & money invested in the product to risk contamination when preventing it is so cheap & easy to do. Some may choose not to & never have a problem, good for them, I'll keep on sanitizing. Regards, GF
 
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Pelikan

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Not laziness or corner cutting. Just my [perhaps mistaken] belief that an acid sanitizer will have a negative impact on the integrity of the cap. Was just putting some feelers out there for what others did, and indeed I might change my own techniques in light of this.
 

SumnerH

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And there's certainly something to be said for that! ;)

There are probably lots of examples of processes that we employ that are 'neurotic ceremonials', repeated because they are comforting. Maybe sanitizing caps can be categorized as one of those things, I dunno. Sanitizing everything that touches my beer up to packaging is just automatic- I don't think about it, I just do it.
Well, it's all about the odds. Honestly, the #1 thing you can do to decrease the risk of infection is to clean everything thoroughly. That probably buys you 95% of the benefit, and I'd guess most people who just did that wouldn't see an infection very often (if ever). Despite all the awesome killer antibacterials around, even in a hospital the #1 thing that helps prevent the spread of infection is basic cleanliness.

But sanitizing everything buys you a little extra, and gives a safety net in case something wasn't 100% clean. And at least it's actually proven to kill most bacteria.

Pasteurization requires that the item to be pasteurized is heated to over 160F for 15-30 seconds. That's the item itself, not the water pouring over it--it's going to take some time for water to heat something else to its temperature, and obviously water that's 160F at the most coming out of the tap is never going to heat anything to over 160F (without some other heat source).

Basically, rinsing with hot tap water is doing the "clean thoroughly" method and then tricking yourself into thinking that warming up your equipment is somehow sanitization. It's likely to be okay, but the fact that you rinsed with hot water has almost nothing to do with why it's likely to be okay.
 

bottle-o-jeff

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Not laziness or corner cutting. Just my [perhaps mistaken] belief that an acid sanitizer will have a negative impact on the integrity of the cap. Was just putting some feelers out there for what others did, and indeed I might change my own techniques in light of this.
I guess what I've tried to say several times is that after contacting the manufacturer of said caps, they say that use of an acid sanitizer will not have a negative impact on the integrity of the cap.

It's your choice whether to sanitize your caps or not, but if the manufacturer of the caps tells me it's ok to sanitize them I'm going to go ahead and assume that it's ok to sanitize them.

Here's a quote from James Spencer's Twitter feed ( basicbrewing):
# From Oxy Barrier cap mfg: O2 barrier is activated when it contacts moisture, but it takes days to react. OK to sanitize if used right away.
6:23 AM Feb 19th from twhirl
He talks about it in more detail in the first few minutes of the next episode (About 2:00 on the 2-26-09 Episode).
 
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Pelikan

Pelikan

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I guess what I've tried to say several times is that after contacting the manufacturer of said caps, they say that use of an acid sanitizer will not have a negative impact on the integrity of the cap.
The manufacturer is (more or less) responding to getting the caps moist right before using them, not necessarily to the effects of an acid. Believe me, I understood what you were saying, each time that you said it.

Regardless, there are enough people sanitizing caps with positive results that I may now jump on the bandwagon. Just positing a theory (ie: that a low pH solution would impact the stability of the soft material lining the cap), but apparently this isn't an issue.
 

EvilTOJ

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Hey c'mon Pelikan, we haven't had a good beer related flame war in awhile.

I sanitize my caps, because the cap bin is right next to the LHBS grain grinder. They're not in baggies, they're just in a drawer. So yea, I'm going to sanitize my caps for sure.
 

Schnitzengiggle

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If it isn't a laziness issue, then why wouldn't one sanitize caps? I just won't understand it, I cannot even begin to rationalize why you wouldn't sanitize your caps! Maybe for a good debate on this thread. I can't wrap my head around it though, it's as simple as filling a bowl with water, and sanitizer, I mean WTF?!?! Really?!?! I'm having a hard time with this...I need a HomeBrew!!!
 
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Pelikan

Pelikan

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If it isn't a laziness issue, then why wouldn't one sanitize caps? I just won't understand it, I cannot even begin to rationalize why you wouldn't sanitize your caps! Maybe for a good debate on this thread. I can't wrap my head around it though, it's as simple as filling a bowl with water, and sanitizer, I mean WTF?!?! Really?!?! I'm having a hard time with this...I need a HomeBrew!!!
This is what I posted a little bit back:

Pelikan said:
My thinking is that we're bottling with open bottling buckets, in the open air; racking in open air; pitching in open air...not in a glove box. To assume that not a single foreign cell will end up in the batch is folly -- they're floating down from the great aether all the time.

So the hypothesis went as follows: Provided one uses reasonable capping practices/cap handling/storage, the probability of a cap to add significantly to the chance of contamination is very low (much lower, in fact, when compared to bottling in the open, etc); the chance for an acid sanitizer to impact the integrity of any cap, whether it be oxygen or not, is potentially higher. Therefore, sanitizing caps may be a "more harm than good" proposition.

This is just my logic. It might be flawed. Hell, it's probably flawed.
 

Medo

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Ahoy hoy,
Interesting thread. I myself boil my caps for 5 minutes at the same time im boiling the corn sugar water up for the carbonation. Now, I dont use oxy caps. I have about 16,000 (yes virginia, thats 16 thousand) caps. They were over run from a pepsi factory. I will never have to buy bottlecaps again in my lifetime. The only ones i dont boil were a few hundred that were so old they still had cork for the gasket material instead of the modern rubber/plastic they use now. And those cork jobs worked just as good as the new ones. I just rinsed them in iodophor. Since I have so many caps in some good size boxes, I always assume they need a good boiling.
I have a good assortment, so I can even seperate what i bottle by the type of cap. But it was the best deal on any brewing paraphenalia Ill probably ever get. I ran out of caps once in the clutch, and the home brew store failed me in my time of cap need. That will NEVER, NEVER happen again....between all those caps, all the bottles I have and my kegs....
But I ramble......
 

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I've steamed, boiled and sanitized with all kinds of stuff, and tried using a variety of caps straight from the bag. I haven't noticed any difference one way or the other. I am told that even ultra-large breweries bottling highly unstable light lagers don't sanitize their caps. Right now, my rule is not to bother unless I plan on aging over 1 year. Then, I use an iodophor, followed by an air dry. I *do* notice a difference between oxygen absorbing and regular caps. Also, I always store all my full bottles upright.
 

boydak

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I'm old school and still boil them. I think there are lots of short cuts we could take in the whole process (beer is pretty tough) but why risk it?
 

SpanishCastleAle

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IMO, flyangler touched on a big issue...the length of time it will take for many contamination problems to become evident in the beer. Most people will finish the whole batch before it will show...so they never even know that they actually had a contamination issue.

I think the other issue...regarding the acid affecting the O2 absorbing ability of the cap...is a non-issue. You're using the caps immediately after you sanitize them...they're not getting 'ruined'. Even if they reduced the O2 absorbing ability by say, 20% (which I doubt), you still have 80% more than a non-O2-barrier cap (which many people use without issues) and you have guarded against contamination. Seems like an easy decision esp since it's such a simple step.

So imo, if you're gonna drink the whole batch soon it probably won't matter...even if you DID use contaminated caps. I don't think the O2 barrier really matters there either. So...no gain by sanitizing...but no gain from O2 caps either. If you're gonna store it for a while...you benefit from the O2 caps...but you prob should sanitize the caps as well. Easy decision for me...but I won't get any heartburn if anyone else decides to not do it. A very large percentage of the time it prob won't matter.
 
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