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What's lurking under your soda fountain? Testing soda dispensers for germs

Posted: 6:20 AM, May 02, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-02 07:20:25-04

Many of us like to enjoy an ice-cold soda, but have you wondered what might be lurking on the soda dispensers, from the older ones to the new machines with one central nozzle?

Scripps reporters took swabs from five types of locations: a movie theater, a fast food restaurant, a fast casual restaurant, a gas station and a hospital cafeteria to see just how clean or dirty some soda fountains are.

The swabs were sent to a food safety lab.

Dr. Helene Ver Ecke, a microbiologist at Metropolitan State University of Denver, studied the results. 

"So it is concerning that that particular species was found to be prevalent," said Ver Ecke as she looked over the results. She said some of the levels concerned her.

"But forty five hundred thousand CFUs is a lot," she said.

Here is what was found.

 The test at a gas station seemed to be the most in the clear.

The results:

GAS STATION:

 

Aerobic Plate Count

Escherichia coli

Total Coliform Bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus

Mold

Yeast

 

 

 

3,900

< 10

< 10

< 10

250

< 10

 

Just a dash of mold, but nothing too concerning.

Things started getting worse from there.

The movie theater had an abnormally high plate count, and pretty high levels of mold.

MOVIE THEATER:

 

Aerobic Plate Count

Escherichia coli

Total Coliform Bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus

Mold

Yeast

 

 

 

260,000

< 10

130

< 10

9,000

< 10

 

The fast casual restaurant had signs of E. coli and the highest count in our tests of total Coliform Bacteria.

FAST CASUAL:

 

Aerobic Plate Count

Escherichia coli

Total Coliform Bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus

Mold

Yeast

 

 

 

13,000

< 100

7,400

< 10

< 10

< 10

 

The fast food restaurant we went to had some concerns. While the overall number of bacteria wasn’t high, it had signs of e-coli, mold and yeast.

FAST FOOD:

 

Aerobic Plate Count

Escherichia coli

Total Coliform Bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus

Mold

Yeast

 

 

 

12,000

< 100

2,400

< 10

45,000

2,700

 

Things like mold and yeast in high levels can be concerning, but not nearly and worrisome as having E.coli present, which is tied to fecal matter and Staph, which can be responsible for making people really sick.

While these problems were present, we know of no cases of someone getting sick from the locations we tested.

"3000 CFUs is is a lot especially when you're comparing it to the other samples," said Ver Ecke.

The hospital tested had pretty typical number of bacteria . What got Ver Ecke most worried was the presence of Staphylococcus.  Hospitals already have trouble with these types of bacteria.

HOSPITAL:

 

Aerobic Plate Count

Escherichia coli

Total Coliform Bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus

Mold

Yeast

 

 

 

11,000

< 10

< 10

3,000

90

80

 

"We have to make sure that there isn't microbes being dispensed into our beverages because especially that sugary beverage would be a delicious sugar fest for microbes so they'll be growing in that soda as it's in your cup," said Ver Ecke.

Ultimately bacteria is all around us, we can't avoid it. Soda lover Amber Raines said the results gives her cause for pause, but she just loves soda so much.

"Yeah I think I’ll probably still drink a fountain soda," she said, laughing.