Study finds bacteria in soda fountains

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - What exactly could you be drinking when you fill up a soda at a soda fountain in a restaurant? A study found bacteria, including fecal bacteria, in almost half of the beverages tested.

Researchers at Hollins University bought 90 drinks, sodas and water, from the soda fountains in 30 different fast food restaurants in Roanoke. Said Hollins University Professor Renee Godard, who headed the study, "Almost 12 percent, 11.7 percent of the samples tested contained E-coli," a bacteria that can contain fecal matter.

The study found 48% of the drinks contained coliform bacteria and 17 percent had chryseobacterium meningosepticum, which can sicken newborns or seniors with weak immune systems.

Explained Godard, "What we feel may be happening is organisms are getting introduced from people's hands when the nozzles are removed and then there's plastic tubing inside of these machines where the organisms can kind of set up shop if you will."

The State Health Department inspects restaurants for cleanliness, including soda fountains. So why is this happening?

Responded Chris Gordon with the State Health Department, "If they're not clean in the food establishment, we'll take the opportunity to let them know that cleaning and sanitizing these soda nozzles is part of their responsibility."

Gordon says they've been inspecting soda fountains and requiring restaurants to clean them for 20 years. But bacteria is hard to see unless there's mold growing. And he points out that no outbreaks of sickness have been reported.

"Just because they found some of these coliforms, not all of these bacteria are disease causing organisms. Or they may not be present enough in significant numbers to cause food borne illness."

So should you worry about bacteria in your drink? Answered Gordon, "I don't think they need to be any more concerned about soda fountains than door knobs or gas pumps. I think they all share a thing in common that they can be touched by different people."

The Health Department says since this study was published, restaurant inspectors have begun re-emphasizing the need to keep soda fountains clean.

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