Infections Could Spread If Fountains Not Cleaned Properly

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March 11, 2010  The Laura And Wagner Foundation Wellness Information Center

If you asked most consumers what they thought the likeliest potential source of E. coli bacteria might be from any restaurant, especially fast-food outlets, they'd probably answer undercooked ground beef. However, a recent study has found that soda fountains found in many restaurants have literally become bacterial 'factories', in many cases squirting fecal bacteria.

Renee D. Godard, a professor of biology at Hollins University in Virginia and co-author of the study results published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, says most of the bacteria were resistant to the  11 antibiotics she tested on them.

The samples were gathered from a sample of 30 self-serve and behind the counter soda fountains in Virginia, 70 per cent showed bacteria and while nearly half of them were contaminated by coliform bacteria, only 20% of them exceeded the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) limit for drinking water.

It's thought the source of the contamination may be in the plastic tubing within the machines as only one restaurant manager reported rinsing them on a daily basis. Nobody was observed touching the nozzles and the restaurant managers reported cleaning the nozzles daily.

Godard hypothesized that the initial contamination may have come from someone touching the nozzle and the bacteria spreading into the plastic tubing. The manufacturer of most standard soda fountains recommends monthly flushing of the tubing, but Godard says most restaurant staff probably don;t know how to do that.

Read more on the study here.