A survey of ice served in ten British fast food restaurants found that at six of them, there were more bacteria in the ice than in the toilet water. (How thirsty are you?)
There are obviously food safety requirements and protocols in place to maintain healthy practices in restaurants—it seems that when it comes to ice, however, people don’t really give it much thought because it’s just water, right?
And the water is frozen—no danger of infection there. Wrong.
The Problem Isn’t Isolated, Isn’t Unique to Britain, and Isn’t Benign.
The Journal of American Medicine published two studies many years ago in which dangerous bacteria were found in crushed ice. Later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness to dirty commercial ice machines.
Bacteria are amazing little creatures: versatile, adaptive, and prolific. No one knows how many strains of bacteria there are; estimates are anywhere from 100,000 to 10 trillion. Let’s just say there are a lot.
Some are good for humans—so good, in fact, that we rely on them for our very existence, as in the case of the microorganisms in our bodies that regulate our digestive and immune systems. Some bacteria aren’t good for humans and many more have no effect—we come into contact with them every day. Bacteria live in cold much colder than freezing and hot hotter than boiling. Companies in the business of serving food must be diligent in every aspect to ensure food safety—there is no room for compromise.
Of the Offending Six Restaurants, Five are Prominent in the United States:
- Burger King
- Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
KFC, McDonald’s, and Nando’s had bacteria levels in their ice higher than acceptable. All restaurants were surprised at the findings; Nando’s, Starbuck’s, and McDonald’s denied responsibility but the rest promised they would step up their standards of hygiene. Dr Melody Greenwood, a former laboratory director for the Health Protection Agency, said the scientific survey experience is a good wake-up call:
“This is a warning. 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 Nando’s, 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.”
There is no way to know if a restaurant maintains cleanliness standards in its ice machines. There haven’t been any recent outbreaks of illness associated with contaminated ice so risk is small. And let’s not ignore the restrooms: it’s nice to know the toilets are kept clean. To be on the safe side, maybe have just a glass of water—and hold the ice, thank you.
How All 10 Restaurants Compared (per ML)
- NANDO’S: More bacteria in ice than toilets. Tests on ice water at 22C: 2,100 organisms. Toilet water: 1,300 organisms.
- BURGER KING: More bacteria in ice than toilets. Ice bacteria at 37C: 260 organisms. Toilet water: Within drinking water regulations.
- McDONALD’S: More bacteria in ice than toilets. Ice bacteria at 22C: 1,400 organisms. Toilet water at 37C: 260 organisms.
- KFC: More bacteria in ice than toilets. Tests on ice water at 22C: 1,100 organisms. Toilet water: Less than 1.
- CAFE ROUGE: More bacteria in ice than toilets, but not above laboratory’s hygiene guidelines. Toilet water: Less than 1.
- STARBUCKS: More bacteria in ice than toilets but within laboratory hygiene guidelines.
- PIZZA HUT: Bacteria in ice at 22C: 430 organisms. Toilet water exceeded drinking water standards.
- PIZZA EXPRESS Bacteria in ice insignificant. Toilet water: 3,200 organisms at 22C, highest in study.
- GOURMET BURGER KITCHEN: Bacteria in ice insignificant. Toilet water: Within bacteria count guidelines.
- WAGAMAMA: Ice bacteria at both temperatures less than 10 organisms. Toilet water at 37C: 160 organisms.