‘Overlooked’ problem of bacteria in fast-food soda fountains. How risky is that drink?

Scientists declined to name the chain, saying only that they ordered a burger, Coca Cola and coffee ...

USA TODAY – Scientists in Southern California are asking the kind of questions that make soda drinkers uneasy after a recent study that found fast-food soda fountains were serving up high levels of bacteria along with self-serve drinks.

Researchers from Loma Linda University found bacteria levels that surpassed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations for drinking water at fast-food restaurants in the eastern Coachella Valley, where largely low-income, Latino farmworker families have struggled with accessing potable water.

Communities in the desert region about two-and-a-half hours east of Los Angeles have experienced water pollution identified by federal officials.

Water sampled in local fast-food restaurants had bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa that can cause severe illness.

“More than 40% of water samples from fast-food soda fountains had coliforms present, an indicator of contamination.” 

The study calls into question the sanitation and maintenance of water from soda fountains, which rely on government and manufacturer standards.

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The study only looked at this one small area, but a larger question loomed for the scientists.

“We cannot say that soda fountain contamination is only in the eastern Coachella Valley,” Thomas Hile, a researcher affiliated with Loma Linda and the lead author of the study, told USA TODAY. “It’s a general problem that I believe is kind of overlooked.”

The Loma Linda team was not the first to discover this problem. In fact, researchers had looked into the public health risk at fast-food soda fountains more than a decade earlier and made similar discoveries.

Representatives of the restaurant industry said they’re following the standards in place. Health officials wouldn’t say if they thought the standards should be revised to prevent the spread of disease at soda fountains.

“The filtration systems for vending machines and soda fountains appear inadequate to prevent people from drinking contaminated water.”

The discovery of the bacteria came about somewhat coincidentally … read more. 

“At understaffed restaurants, tasks like cleaning soda fountains are less likely to be completed than tasks that contribute to the visible cleanliness of the facility.” – The Dirty Truth About Restaurant Sodas: Can they actually be dangerous?, Taylor Ann Spencer , DELISH, JUN 1, 2023

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