May 7: Restaurant Report

By Ashley Swann - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Restaurant Report investigates a summer favorite: soft serve ice cream.

The potential problem here lies with the soft serve machines themselves. If not properly maintained, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria.

It's a summer sensation that's a hit with young & old alike.

"I like the smoothness, the creamy and I also like frozen yogurt," said Kiffy Johnson. "It's a nice treat."

But your sweet treat could be hiding a dark secret.

"You're gonna find it and they will show up sometimes in frozen desserts," said Gary Hagy of the Virginia Department of Health.

Soft serve machines that aren't properly cleaned & sanitized can become a bacteria breeding ground, tainting your delicious dessert.

To dive deeper into this soft serve situation, we visited restaurants with soft serve machines in Richmond, Henrico, Hanover & Chesterfield. Our ten ice cream samples were carefully frozen and shipped to an out of state lab for analysis.

Our results? Two of the 10 were contaminated with levels of coliform bacteria well over some states' regulatory limits. Virginia doesn't have a standard. But in Massachusetts, where our samples were tested, total coliform counts over 50 are a cause for concern.

A sample from an Ashland Sonic dished out a count of 145. And Verry Berry in Richmond came in at greater than 150.

Coliform is an indicator of sanitary quality. High levels can mean a potential for disease-causing bacteria.

"This is basically an indicator organism. It indicates that the machine wasn't thoroughly cleaned," said Hagy.

Virginia health officials no longer test soft serve ice cream, Gary Hagy says, because, by the time results come back, the ice cream has been consumed. Hagy adds that he's never heard of an illness outbreak being traced to the machines.

"My 10 year old daughter likes to get it sometimes, I have no reservations about her getting it at all," Hagy said.

Representatives from Very Berry and Sonic tell us they stand by their cleaning practices & their products.

In a written statement, Sonic went on to say that none of its drive-ins in the Richmond area have ever failed a health department inspection, that employees are carefully trained food-safety certified and that they routinely sanitize the equipment at least every two hours and that they will be re-instructed on proper cleaning & serving procedures.

Sonic's statement also questioned whether the sample we tested from its store was contaminated after it was served to us.

To read Sonic's complete statement click here.

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