The soft drinks you usually order from your favourite restaurant, bar or café can be teeming with bacteria that is more concentrated and dangerous than the water in that same establishment’s toilet.
Studies have shown that one of the dirtiest spots in a restaurant isn’t the obvious ones such as the toilet or the kitchen floor. In various studies across the U.K., U.S. and China (see sources below), it was found that the ice machine can contain not just ice, but also millions of contaminants that expand and spread so fast, that their population can grow twice its size in just 10 minutes.
The ice machine is particularly attractive to bacteria, fungus and slime because of the way the most common models are designed that makes it hard to clean, reach and detect dirty compartments such as filters and interior bins. Also, bacteria in the air can easily get trapped inside the machine, especially if it’s not regularly and properly cleaned.
Another cause of ice machine contamination is human error. Poor standards of food preparation can cause contamination; using a dirty scooper to get ice from the compartment, or using an unclean hand to get ice – even just once – can easily contaminate the entire unit and distribute bacteria to all its existing and future contents.
Consuming contaminated ice cubes have been shown to cause the following diseases: Cholera, salmonella, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A and infection from E. coli. Aside from food establishments, hospitals are also another facility where ice machines were found to be contaminated and have been the cause of patients’ exposure to disease-carrying bacteria, the most common of which is Legionella pneumophila.
Experts also advise that people shouldn’t just be wary of the ice in their drinks – in many cases, the drink itself may be contaminated as well. Some of the identified high-risk water sources of Legionella include bottled drinking water units, mains-fed drinking water units and vending machines. The vending machines in food establishments are especially susceptible because of the environment – for instance, nozzles that come into contact with sugar (bacteria’s favourite food) and other food items can easily become perfect feeding and breeding grounds for microorganisms.
To improve sanitary conditions in the food service industry, establishment managers are advised to implement strict food health and safety processing following global standards. Moreover, investing in water quality testing kits for vending machine and ice and drinking water units can help ensure only high-quality drinks are served to customers.