‘Don’t know how big the threat is’: Deadly bacteria detected in soda fountains | Health - Hindustan Times

‘We don’t know how big the threat is’: Study detects deadly ‘superbug’ bacteria in soda fountains

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Oct 11, 2023 01:46 PM IST

Are soda fountains offering wide variety of carbonated beverages with flavoured deadly infection? New study detects deadly ‘superbug’ bacteria in soda fountains

Popular fixtures in eateries and fast-food establishments, soda fountains are now famous for even offering unlimited fills with fast food, apart from offering a wide variety of carbonated beverages but while these machines dispense a range of flavoured sodas, new study detects deadly ‘superbug’ infection as 41% of soda fountains were found to be contaminated with coliform bacteria. A staple in the world of casual dining and fast food while often paired with ice and other refreshments, soda fountains allow customers to customise their drinks and provide a refreshing and enjoyable way to quench one's thirst but the shocking new survey and analysis raises significant health and safety concerns as the water dispensed from soda fountains in fast food restaurants was found to be contaminated with some of the deadliest “superbug” germs known to science.

‘We don’t know how big the threat is’: Study detects deadly ‘superbug’ bacteria in soda fountains (Photo by Instagram/thepinkpistol)
‘We don’t know how big the threat is’: Study detects deadly ‘superbug’ bacteria in soda fountains (Photo by Instagram/thepinkpistol)

The survey was conducted in the eastern Coachella Valley, which is a vast agricultural area on the East of Los Angeles and is primarily populated by Latino farmworkers but Thomas Hile, a researcher affiliated with Loma Linda University and the lead author of the study, told USA TODAY, “We cannot say that soda fountain contamination is only in the eastern Coachella Valley,” while highlighting that it is a general problem that is kind of overlooked.

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Joan Rose, a microbiologist at Michigan State University who was not involved with the study, told New York Times, “It’s a concern that they found these pathogens. It’s clearly an indicator that we need to do more investigations like this. We just don’t know how big the threat is.”

The statement comes as the disease-causing “superbug” germs reportedly including antibiotic-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Campylobacter jejuni, listeria, salmonella and E. coli were found not only in almost half of soda fountains but also in 80% of swabs from the taps of soda fountains, 50% of restaurant tap water and 20% of water-vending machines. For the uninitiated, “superbugs” are bacteria that have developed resistance to multiple antibiotics, making them difficult to treat and potentially life-threatening hence, finding them in places like soda fountains is alarming and requires immediate attention and action as these bacteria can lead to infections that are difficult to treat, potentially causing severe illness or even death in vulnerable individuals if not properly addressed.

The source of contamination could be related to the maintenance and hygiene practices of the soda fountain equipment, water supply or even the handling of drinks hence, establishing and enforcing strict hygiene and sanitisation protocols for all equipment involved in the soda fountain operation is crucial. Experts advise regular cleaning and maintenance as necessary steps to prevent bacterial growth and contamination since this isn’t the first time when problems with fast-food cleanliness have been uncovered.

A study published in the January 2010 issue of International Journal of Food Microbiology claimed that researchers detected antibiotic-resistant microbes and E.coli (which are mostly harmless, but some can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia) in the soda samples while nearly half of the 90 beverages from soda fountain machines in one area in Virginia tested positive for coliform bacteria, indicating possible fecal contamination.

In 2015, former New York City restaurant server Rob Gunther shared how opening the top of the soda fountain one day made him see “dozens upon dozens of cockroaches ...running around” and described it as “one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen.” A news by Fox in 2017 revealed that Florida state health inspectors had discovered “slimy black and green slimy mold-like substances” in soda fountain nozzles during surprise inspections at a dozen local restaurants.

In another gross incident in November 2021, McDonald’s in London was ripped online after earthworms were found squirming about in the fast food outlet’s soda machine. Even in September last year at Gloucestershire's Cheltenham, maggots were found disgusting the customers as they wriggled about in a McDonald’s dipping sauce dispenser, the clear plastic spout of which looked like an incubation tube that a scientist would use to breed fruit flies.

Consumers should be made aware of this issue and advised to take precautions while health authorities and regulatory bodies should be involved to ensure that businesses are following safety and sanitation guidelines or need to enforce stricter regulations in light of this discovery. The quality of the water used in the soda fountains must be closely monitored and maintained to prevent bacterial contamination while water treatment and filtration systems may need to be upgraded to ensure safety and prevent potential health crises.

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