Fast-Food Soda Fountains
by Slashfood Editor, Posted Jan 7th 2010 @ 5:30PM
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Photo: cafemama, Flickr
by Catherine Donaldson-Evans
The latest fast food "ick factor" isn't in the burgers or fries -- it's in the soda.
A group of microbiologists at Virginia's Hollins University found alarming levels of bacteria, possibly from feces, in fast-food soda fountains.
A scary 48 percent of machine beverages tested contained coliform bacteria – which can originate in fecal matter, the International Journal of Food Microbiology study showed. Even more worrying: Most of the bacteria identified were resistant to antibiotics.
"Coliform bacteria was detected in 48 percent of the beverages," the team's abstract states. "More than 11 percent of the beverages analyzed contained Escherichia coli [E. coli]."
Several other types of bacteria also were discovered -- including Staphylococcus (Staph). Most showed resistance to one or more of the 11 antibiotics used in the study, lead researcher and Hollins biology professor Renee Godard told AOL Food.
The scientists tested 90 drinks in 30 soda fountains within a 20-mile radius of the university's campus in Roanoke.
Godard wouldn't name the fast-food outfits and convenience stores studied but said they included "all the typical places you would go to get a soda."
"This is probably happening in restaurants too," she said.
Godard said the root of the problem is the failure to properly clean the soda machines, where bacteria fester in the plastic tubing. Flushing the tubes out with sanitizer is the solution.
Godard said the response from the fast food and soda industries and the Department of Public Health has been "weak."
There has been only one epidemic of illness linked to a soda fountain on record, about a decade ago. That doesn't account for food poisoning unknowingly caused by tainted beverage machines.
"There isn't any major food-borne outbreak. It's not like we've had some massive mortality from these," said Godard. "Soda fountain beverages could be linked to gastrointestinal upset that could go unreported."