Few things are better on a hot day than a big fountain drink from your favorite fast-food restaurant – with lots of ice. Never mind that the ice in your cup may be contaminated with bacteria like coliform, enterococci, E. coli, and more.
What’s a little bacterium between friends, right? After all, we’re talking about staples in the fast-food industry – giants like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. And no, this is not isolated to one city, county, or even state. It is national.
A 12-year-old’s science project gets seriously disturbing
In 2006, Tampa 12-year-old Jasmine Roberts was annoyed with her ice chewing friends so she used her school science project to make them stop. She took samples of fast-food ice and samples of toilet water from fast food restaurants in her area and compared the bacterial loads. The conclusion? 70% of the time, fast-food ice is dirtier than toilet water.
This became fairly high profile and there were several other studies done with similar results.
2008 – Ice samples were taken from 25 Indianapolis area bars. 13 contained coliform bacteria.
2010 – 90 drink samples were taken from 30 soda fountains in the Roanoke, Virginia area. 48% of the drinks contained coliform bacteria and 11% contained antibiotic resistant E. coli. This was due to bacteria in the plastic tubing of the soda machines.
2011 – Ice samples were taken from 88 establishments in the U.K. and 30% had E. coli and enterococci.
“Dirty ice machines” and public reports
There are two stomach turning reasons that experts offer as a possible reason why fast-food ice is so gross: people don’t wash their hands before scooping the ice and the ice machines aren’t cleaned regularly, if at all. Additionally, toilets are cleaned regularly, which is why the ice is dirtier than the toilet water.
A Charlotte, North Carolina reporter whose beat is area restaurants and does a weekly “restaurant report card” has said that one of the most common citations he sees on public health reports is “dirty ice machines.”
These dirty ice machines can harbor such bacterial treats as salmonella and E. coli, not to mention mold and viruses.
How to get healthy, safe ice when eating out
Experts say that you really can’t know if the ice you are getting is clean. In what are more extreme cases, there may be visible signs like pink or black in the ice – or if it has a slimy film. It should be clear, tasteless, and odorless. If it is cloudy or discolored, or has an odor or a taste, you are definitely not getting clean ice.
There isn’t much you can do though, except be vigilant or make your own ice in the controlled environment of your own kitchen.
This begs the question though. If you can’t even get clean ice from these restaurants, what do you suppose the condition is of the food that you eat there?
But that’s another post for another day.