Um, yuck. A new study has found that a little less than half of sodas poured from fountains in the Roanoke, Virginia area are contaminated with coliform bacteria, an indicator of fecal contamination.
According to the work, published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, 48 percent of the 90 regular sodas, diet sodas, and waters the researchers poured from 30 local soda fountains contained the bacteria. Eleven percent of them tested positive for E. coli, a no-no that violates US Environmental Protection Agency standards for safe drinking water.
Though E. coli can certainly make people sick, not all forms of the microbes are harmful. The real cause for concern here is the possibility that soda fountain operators aren't washing their hands properly and are contaminating the machines with all sorts much worse bugs that the team didn't test for. From today's CNN article on the study:
are different," [Dean Cliver, professor of food safety emeritus at University of California Davis] said. "Some communities are more on to it than others. How much of a threat it represents? It's probably limited. Once again, it's a matter of what regulations are in place, who pays attention and whether it's being followed."
To sum up, Clivers appears to be assuming that this study found a pocket of bad hygiene amongst soda fountain operators that is not typical of the rest of the country. His suggestion that it presents a 'limited' threat to large-scale public health seems optimistic in the absence of any other data. But let's hope he's right. There's more:
National Restaurant Association
restaurant industry, e-mailed this statement in response to the findings: "While the results of this study are disconcerting, we feel that it isn't representative of our industry and that our guests can safely enjoy beverages from dispensers and single-serve containers alike."
This statement seems to ignore the study's findings entirely. And if the food NRA (as opposed to the guns NRA) is willing to ignore public health data, it makes you wonder whether cans may be just as dirty, or worse than fountain machines. Most have to be handled by employees at some point when they stock shelves, coolers, or vending machines, right? And how often do you clean a can top before you put your mouth right on it? I sure don't, but I might start.
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