Ice from fast food beverage machines is dirtier than the water in your toilet. That’s according to research conducted by a 12-year old girl in South Florida who was just looking for an interesting science project.
What Jasmine Roberts found from her investigation was out of the five restaurants she sampled ice and toilet water from, 70 percent of the time the ice contained more dangerous bacteria. This was after collecting ice samples from both the drive-through and inside the store via sterile beakers, and after collecting toilet water after a single flush in each facility.
“These [bacteria] don’t belong there,” said Dr. David Katz, medical contributor to “Good Morning America.” “It’s not cause for panic, although it is alarming because what she found is nothing new. You’re not more likely to get sick now. But she’s done us a favor by sounding the alarm.”
Despite the disturbing findings, this is not the first time the public has been made aware of the dangers associated with vending machine ice. In 2006, dirty ice made headlines when a young boy died suddenly after playing in a junior golf tournament. An investigation concluded the boy had been exposed to norovirus through contaminated cooler ice.
A few years later in 2013, popular media outlet The Daily Mail conducted their own study investigating restaraunt ice and found ice from 6 out of 10 McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, Cafe Rouge and Nandos had higher levels of bacteria than a toilet bowl.
“This is a warning,” said Dr Melody Greenwood, a former laboratory director for the Health Protection Agency, at the time of The Mail’s investigation. “It is easy to forget ice can carry bacteria because they think it is too cold for germs, but that is far from the truth. Nasty bugs such as E.coli can lurk in ice machines. In some cases, such as Nandos, we found double the amount of bacteria we would expect to find [in drinking water]. This is caused by things such as a failure to clean machines and scoops used by staff.”
Experts say it’s not surprising that ice is contaminated. Bags often are placed on the floor while the beverage machines are being loaded, and employees often don’t think twice about handling ice without gloves on. What’s more, the ice itself is pour into an open container setting that is rarely–if ever–cleaned. This continual use means anything could fall into the ice container and remain there for an infinite amount of time.
The good news is that Jasmine’s study has reminded people and restaurant owners that there is a very real health concern when it comes to dirty ice. Since her findings were presented, two of the facilities she took samples from have initiated new sanitation protocols and have invited the 12-year old back to re-test their ice supply and even the temperature of their food.