A study of ice machines in various fast food restaurants showed that over half of the machines were contaminated with bacteria that originated from fecal matter.
According to Daily Mail, a BBC Watchdog study found that several restaurants failed random testing when their ice machines were found to have coliform bacteria growing in them. Such results are evidence that fecal matter was present at one time. Contamination likely occurred after an employee failed to thoroughly wash his hands and then touched the ice.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and McDonald’s were among the fast food restaurants that failed the test, with KFC showing coliform bacteria growth at seven of the 10 restaurants tested. Five of the seven contaminations were classified as “severe.”
“When we’re finding the sorts of numbers we’re finding here, you have to look at the people making the ice, handling the ice, which they then transfer into customers’ drinks,” said Tony Lewis, head of policy and education at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Lewis called the study’s findings “extremely worrying.”
KFC responded to the BBC report by saying that its procedures for cleaning the ice machines are very strict and that each of the locations that failed were thoroughly cleaned after a temporary shutdown.
The company also noted that its restaurants routinely scored highly or perfectly during other health inspections.
McDonald’s responded similarly, saying that its food safety guidelines were under review and that customer service remained a top priority.
“Hygiene and safety practices are of the utmost importance to us and we’re proud that 99 percent of our restaurants have an independent hygiene rating of either good or very good,” the company’s statement read.
The U.S. had a number of contaminated ice machines as well. A 2010 study tested 90 beverage and ice fountains at fast food establishments in Virginia, finding coliform bacteria in over half of them. Many soda dispensers were not up to U.S. drinking water standards, CNN reported.
“The large number of beverages and soda fountain machines containing E. coli is still of considerable concern … and suggests that more pathogenic strains of bacteria could persist and thrive in soda fountain machines if introduced,” the study stated.
The study clarified, however, that the bacteria found in the soda machines is most likely not harmful. Many forms of E. coli found in the machines are harmless, though the risk of illness remains for people with compromised immune systems.