A recent study of ice machines at various fast food restaurants showed that more than half of them were contaminated with bacteria originating from fecal matter.
According to a BBC Watchdog study reported by the Daily Mail, several restaurants failed the random test of their ice machines when coliform bacteria was found growing in them -- a common sign that fecal matter was present at one time. The contamination likely occurred after an employee failed to thoroughly wash their hands and then touched the ice.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and McDonald's were among the fast food restaurants that failed during the BBC's test, and KFC showed coliform bacteria growth at seven of the 10 restaurants tested. Five of the seven contaminated machines were classified as "severe."
"When we’re finding the sorts of numbers we’re finding here, you have to look at the people making the ice, handling the ice, which they then transfer into customers’ drinks," said Tony Lewis, Head of Policy and Education at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Lewis called the study's findings "extremely worrying."
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KFC responded to the BBC report by saying their procedures for cleaning the ice machines were very strict and that each of the locations that failed had been thoroughly cleaned after a temporary shutdown. The company also noted that its restaurants have routinely scored highly or perfectly during recent health inspections.
McDonald's responded with a similar sentiment, saying their food safety guidelines were being reviewed and that customer service remained their top priority.
"Hygiene and safety practices are of the utmost importance to us and we’re proud that 99 percent of our restaurants have an independent hygiene rating of either good or very good," read a statement from the fast food giant.
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The U.S. has had its fair share of contaminated ice machines, too. A 2010 study tested 90 beverage and ice fountains at fast food restaurants in Virginia, finding coliform bacteria in more than half of them. Many of the soda dispensers fell below U.S. drinking water standards, reported CNN.
"The large number of beverages and soda fountain machines containing E. coli is still of considerable concern ... and suggests that more pathogenic strains of bacteria could persist and thrive in soda fountain machines if introduced," read the study.
For the most part, however, the bacteria found in the soda machines is not likely harmful, the study says. Many forms of E. coli found in the machines are harmless, although the risk of illness remains in those with compromised immune systems.