Just two weeks after carrying out an investigation that found coliform bacteria in iced drinks at Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Caffè Nero earlier this month, the same BBC Watchdog program in found fecal bacteria in the iced drinks of several other fast-food giants.
On Wednesday, the BBC reported on a recent investigation that found traces of fecal bacteria in samples of drinks from Burger King, KFC and McDonald’s in the UK.
In order to carry out the tests, the BBC obtained drink samples from 10 different branches of each fast food chain, and samples from all three food giants tested positive for fecal coliform bacteria. Seven samples from KFC, six from Burger King and three from McDonald’s were contaminated.
How Concerned Should We Be?
The thought of any kind of fecal bacteria in your drink is not a pleasant one—but should the new findings incite panic among consumers across the pond?
As it turns out, probably not. According to CNBC, McDonald’s released a statement from Tom Humphrey, a professor of bacteriology and food safety at Swansea University Medical School, who explained why the presence of coliform bacteria shouldn’t be a big cause for concern to consumers.
“It is pleasing that Escherichia coli (E. coli), the bacterium that is the most accurate and reliable indicator of fecal contamination, was not found in any ice samples from McDonald’s restaurants,” he said. “Low levels of two other indicator bacteria, coliforms and enterococci, were found in some ice samples. These can be used as an assessment of water hygiene but, as they are widely distributed in the natural environment, they are not reliable indicators of potential health risks.”
In other words, the fact that fecal bacteria has been found at several United Kingdom outlets of Starbucks, McDonald’s and other popular fast-food chains shouldn’t too concerning.
The Connection Between Coliform And E. Coli Bacteria
Here’s how Wikipedia describes the connection between coliform bacteria and E. coli, which is a more serious bacterial contamination:
[Coliform bacteria] are a commonly used indicator of sanitary quality of foods and water. Coliforms can be found in the aquatic environment, in soil and on vegetation; they are universally present in large numbers in the feces of warm-blooded animals. Whilst coliforms themselves are not normally causes of serious illness, they are easy to culture, and their presence is used to indicate that other pathogenic organisms of fecal origin may be present.
An E. coli infection can lead to severe diarrhea that is often bloody, severe abdominal pain, and vomiting, according to the Food Safety Working Group. There’s usually not a fever associated with an E. coli infection, but the affected individual can remain sick for 5 to 10 days. The risk of dehydration tied to an E. coli infection is high, and the very young and elderly are at greater risk of complications.
All of the fast food chains investigated responded to the BBC’s claims with promises to increase training, test their ice independently or shut down the ice machines in question if contamination is confirmed, so the problem shouldn’t continue.
So for now, unless more serious bacteria are found in chains’ drinks, you can likely relax and continue to enjoy an icy beverage with your meal.