A small study has found that nearly half of all soft drink beverages dispensed from 30 machines in Roanoke Valley, Virginia, were contaminated with bacteria that indicate fecal contamination not allowed under federal EPA standards.
The study comes from Renee D. Godard, a professor of biology at Hollins University. She co-authored a paper published in the Journal of Food Microbiology.
What her group found showed the presence of bacterial contamination that may lead to episodic gastric distress and could pose a health threat to those with a compromised immune system.
Among the 90 dispenser beverages Godard and her team obtained from 20 self-service and 10 personnel-dispensed soda fountains, 70 percent of the beverages had bacteria that would not be allowed in municipal drinking water.
48 percent was coliform bacteria, connected with fecal matter. None of the ice was contaminated.
Eleven percent was E. coli bacteria and over 17% contained Chryseobacterium meningosepticum. Other opportunistic pathogenic microorganisms isolated from the beverages included species of Klebsiella, Staphylococcus, Stenotrophomonas, Candida, and Serratia, according to the report.
Among the findings, most of the identified bacteria show resistance to one or more of the 11 antibiotics tested. IB News has reported on the antibiotic use in industrial farming and its contribution to antiobiotic resistant bacteria.
Microbiologists not involved in the study weren't surprised of coliform colonies in the soda fountain machines.
"Wherever man is there will be representation of feces," said Philip Tierno, director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center to ABC News.
Godard isn’t sure where the bacteria come from. It could be the nozzles of the soda fountain machine or the hands of the restaurant workers who serve the beverages.
The restaurant managers Godard interviewed reported that they cleaned the nozzles daily, but what goes uncleaned is the tubing inside the machine that delivers the liquid. Only one restaurant manager rinsed the plastic tubing on a regular basis. When water sits, bacteria can colonize within the machine.
"Our best guess is they're actually establishing themselves on the lining of the plastic tubing. The reason we say that is in other areas, such as hospitals, it is known that bacteria can establish themselves on plastic tubing for machines," said Godard.
The amount of bacteria didn’t worry experts, unless a person is immunocompromised through cancer, AIDS, or have an organ transplant. The concern is that besides bacterial contamination, viruses can spread by fecal contamination as well.
Coca-Cola which purchases soda fountain dispensers claims it urges independent companies and restaurants to routinely maintain the fountains and it provides them with training, the company says in a statement.
Cornelius Inc. the most common brand of soda fountain in the Godard study, recommends flushing the internal tubes at least once a month as well as daily cleaning of the nozzles. #