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Soda fountains dispersing gastric distress

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By Sheilah Downey and David Liu

Soda fountain machines are found to be dishing out not just a bubbly beverage, but a cup full of microbes or bacteria, according to a new study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology.

Faculty and students at Hollis University obtained samples of ninety beverages of three types, sugar sodas, diet sodas and water, from 20 self-service machines and 10 personnel-served soda fountains and found that a "significant" number contained coliforms, bacteria of fecal origin.

Specifically, the researchers found more than 11 percent of the beverages analyzed were tainted with Escherichia coli or simply E coli and more than 17 percent contained Chryseobacterium meningosepticum.

Other pathogenic microorganisms isolated included Klebsiella, Staphylococcus, Stenotrophomonas, Candida, and Serratia most of which showed resistance to one or more of the 11 antibiotics tested.

The levels of bacterial contamination were basically the same for all the sodas and water dispensed from both self-service and personnel-dispense soda fountain machines.

Ice samples did not show any contamination meaning that presence of bacteria did not exceed the U.S. drinking water standards. But forty eight percent of the sodas and water contained coliform bacteria and 20 percent harbored a heterotrophic plate count greater than 500 cfu/mL.

Heterotrophs are micro-organisms including bacteria, yeasts and moulds that need an external source of organic carbon for growth.

The study suggests that drinks dispensed from soda fountains can harbor microorganisms which may contribute to gastric distress and could potentially pose a more serious threat to people with compromised immune systems, according to researchers.

"We obtained soda fountain beverages from a wide variety of fast food establishments and found that a significant number of the drinks had levels of bacteria, including coliforms, which would not be allowed in municipal drinking water," said co-author Dr. Renee Godard, professor of biology and director of environmental studies at Hollis.

"To our knowledge, no one has looked at bacterial contamination from soda fountains machines before, and our results may have public health implications," said Godard. "They signal the need for regulations that enforce the manufacturer's recommended cleaning regimens for these beverages dispensers."

According to Wikipedia, coliforms are the cause of many nosocomial illnesses, which is an illness acquired in the hospital.  The presence of coliforms is used to indicate that other pathogenic organisms of fecal origin may be present.

Photo from wikipedia


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Subscribe to comments feed Comments (44 posted):

Steve on 01/09/2010 14:17:40
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Did you just cite wikipedia as a source? Did you not want to be taken seriously?
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mike pitt on 01/09/2010 14:24:02
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This proves my theory correct in that people are basically nasty and self-centered. More than half of the people leaving the restroom do not even bother to wash their hands. Of the half that do, at least half of them only rinse. The good guys who do a thorough job of hand-washing then have to touch a bacteria laden door handle upon exiting.
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Anonymous on 01/09/2010 14:27:14
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mmmmmmm... poo poo in yo pepsi
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  on 01/09/2010 14:28:34
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I always wash my hands thoroughly (some would say obsessively) after using the bathroom and before eating. And when in public, I always use a paper towel to open bathroom doors as I exit. (I love doors that push open, allowing me to use a foot to open it, but they're rare.)
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infinity on 01/09/2010 14:33:21
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Well wikipedia was only used for the coliform description and not the results of the study, at least that's how I read it.
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cs30109 on 01/09/2010 14:34:01
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What were their controls? Did they try ordinary tap water out of household faucets, canned soda, etc? I would be interested to hear how this level of contamination compares to that present in other common beverages.

Frankly, it sounds like it's probably a very low level of contamination, given that people aren't getting sick all the time from soft drink fountains.

To the guy with the hand washing comment: there's absolutely nothing you can do to avoid touching bacteria all the time. You might as well just accept it. I think it's even good for you---keeps your immune system kicking.
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on 01/09/2010 14:43:48
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Never understood why so many guys will use the pisser and then walk out the bathroom as if there's no need to wash hands!
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on 01/09/2010 14:51:43
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Not only does washing your hands after using the bathroom prevent you from spreading your germs, it also cleans up all the crap you got on your hands from touching stuff up to then. It's absolutely nasty that people will go to the restroom and not wash their hands with soap and water. I'm not a germ-o-phobe, but I don't particularly enjoy getting sick either. I always open restroom doors with a paper towel.
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Stevo on 01/09/2010 15:04:05
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Not a day goes by where I witness another guy not washing his hands... I find it funny when they're at a restaurant because then they're eating there own fecal matter as well as everyone else who hasn't washed their hands :p
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luluthebeast on 01/09/2010 15:06:07
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It's really very simple. When I used to work for Big Boys back in the seventies, we had to soak the covers and clean the soda heads EVERY NIGHT at close. We also had the soda lines cleaned out on a regular basis. I never had a complaint of illness in the four years I worked for them. I wonder how often these places clean their machines?
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George Morris on 01/09/2010 15:23:39
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I'll just bet my Pee Pee is cleaner than the soap dispensers and water faucets and just about anything else in the bathrooms after 2 showers a day, and my mom tought me to not pee on my hands.
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geohistpol on 01/09/2010 15:33:57
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With the seeming breakdown in social, economic, political, moral, legal and other "controls" that have previously functioned to keep our larger society somewhat unified and coherent, the "public" is being subjected to ever greater risks of all types. One struggles to know for certain whether these breakdowns are a result of sheer population growth or a combination of that plus many other factors. I suspect the latter.
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JIM ROSS on 01/09/2010 15:39:58
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IT'S FECIAL MATTER THAT THEY ARE FINDING IN SODA FOUNTAINS,NOT URINE. MOST MEN I KNOW DON'T PEE ON THIER HANDS. YOU SHOULD WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER GOING #2.
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Nicole on 01/09/2010 15:54:54
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Whether or not you get (visible) urine or feces on your hands, washing your hands with soap and warm water for 30 seconds several times a day will greatly reduce the the number of ALL bacteria on your hands. Bacteria from the doorknobs, counters, and the keyboard you're using right now - those bacteria should get washed off periodically. And what better opportunity do you have in public than a restroom? Whether you pee on your hands or not, washing your hands is effective in reducing the bacteria on them and preventing the spread to others.
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Stephen on 01/09/2010 15:56:41
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If you comprehend what your reading, you'll have seen that the contamination doesn't come from dirty human hands.
luluthebeast @16:06:07 gets it.
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John on 01/09/2010 16:04:26
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Actually peeing directly on your hands is not necessary to cover your hands in urine. Some of the urin is aerosolized and floats on the air to coat your hands. How does one know feces smell like sh*t? Its because small particles are airborne and the nose inhales them. Direct contact with and poop is not necessary to contaminate your hands with those substances. When you smell a fart, you inle small particles of the person delivering the gas...think about that next time you are in a crowded elevator.
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aram on 01/09/2010 16:13:24
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well, cleaning these machines should be mandatory! having read this article is concludes my decision to NEVER, EVER have another fountain drink. I always thought, why does this taste different? thats because it is swimming in bacteria far beyond the norm regulations. For those who still want to use these fountain drinks, good luck! even if there is a regulation placed, u really think "all" the fast food low paying branches r going to uphold that?
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Reader on 01/09/2010 16:13:43
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Did anyone here read the article? There is nothing about whether you should wash your hands or not after going to the bathroom in a restaurant. I suppose we could also have a rousing discussion about how often people change their bed sheets, but the article didn't talk about that either.
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Bell on 01/09/2010 16:15:37
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Why not visit:WWW.SILENTSUPERBUG.COM
and: http://silentsuperbug-reference.blogspot.com/
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d-m on 01/09/2010 16:21:47
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I agree with cs30109. I figure it's a point ov view thing. Like the ridde; What's the differance between a blue collar worker and a white collar worker? The White collar worker washes his hands after he goes to the bathroom.
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Who care's on 01/09/2010 16:21:56
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And THAT is exactly why I won't drink soda from any fountain where stupid fat americans can't get enough. GULP GULP!!
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on 01/09/2010 16:34:44
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urine is sterile, after i shower my unit is as clean as any other part of my body, I do not wash my hands after #1. as long as I dont piss on my hands I dont see the need to wash them, back to my first point, even if I do piss on my hands, URINE IS STERILE.
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sue on 01/09/2010 16:36:58
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Males are not the only guilty ones when exiting the bathroom w/o washing hands , I get grossed out when "ladies" use the bathroom and without any remorse or guilt walk out without washing hands. That is why I stopped eating out. Grossssss!!!!!!
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Den on 01/09/2010 16:37:53
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now its time to enforce all yo pigs to wash yo hands every time when doing caca or piss...pigsssss.
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Bill on 01/09/2010 16:51:56
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Urine is Sterile? Are you kidding me? How about the next time you have surgery we let all the hospital employess taking care of you piss in your open wound and see how sterile it is as you recover?
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J Matta on 01/09/2010 17:12:32
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The study is by Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, You can read the actual abstract at ScienceDirect.com. The link is a mile long so just Google the title:
Beverages obtained from soda fountain machines in the U.S. contain microorganisms, including coliform bacteria.

Sounds like a Hand Washing study would have been more popular but that would be the Psychology Dept.
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on 01/09/2010 17:14:56
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Urine IS sterile. Unless of course you have bladder infection... But the word sterile doesn't imply that is chemically inert, just that it doesn't contain microbes. Urine is still concentated waste: urea, salt, ect. So even though it won't cause an infection per se, it still would be bad medical practice to piss into someone's open wound (which was a digusting direction to take these comments in). Regardless, the bacteria this study found are everywhere (whether you wash your hands or not), and probably are due to relaxed cleaning standards of the fountain itself (heads, lines, valves, etc) as mentioned on an earlier comment.
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elevatorman on 01/09/2010 17:16:07
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Wow. 'd-m' brings up a typical prejudice I'm faced with all the time. I'm a blue-collar worker who always washes his hands after using the restroom. I also happen to work in an industry where I am always around white-collar workers. I must say that I am never suprised when the carpenter or electrician standing next to me is washing his hands after pissing, while the suit who just crapped walks right by the sinks and out the door. Never assume that someone is not cleaner, more educated, or better compensated than you by appearance alone.
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theshiney on 01/09/2010 17:39:14
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how many times do you need to hear it. FAST. FOOD. IS. BAD.
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RockyD on 01/09/2010 17:40:18
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@ "mike pitt" (aka nasty, self-centered person)... didn't your mama teach you to not pee all over your hands?
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Jeremy on 01/09/2010 17:47:21
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A simple program of random testing with punitive fines based on a significant fraction of the establishment's gross receipts will make all the difference.
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oldguy on 01/09/2010 17:51:17
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Good group hygiene is very difficult to achieve - especially in a public place such as a restaurant. With the fast employee turnaround and maturity level of many restaurant workers, how would management ever keep up with the constant training of newer employees, and checking up on procedures at so many steps in the process? I'm wondering about just eating more at home.
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Randall on 01/09/2010 18:01:07
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The study *specifically8 says that they're snow proof anyoen has gotten sick form it, let alone "gastric distress." I hope whoever wrote this gets sued by Coca-Cola. Would serve you right.
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doc on 01/09/2010 19:11:21
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Urine is sterile and if you peed into a wound hardly any bacteria would get in. You can pee in someone's eye to flush it in an emergency, that is, if they will let you.
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luluthebeast on 01/09/2010 19:17:57
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Actually, the area from belly button to mid-thigh--is crawling with germs known as coliform bacteria, so THAT'S why you should wash your hands everytime you go to the bathroom. Urine has nothing to do with it. The bacteria starts in your intestines and just keeps moving around.
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aurum79 on 01/09/2010 19:47:07
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The conservatives who disparage public education, underfund it and generally hate paying for services for the unwashed should take note. Hand washing and good hygiene is a curriculum which should not be lost in selfish cost cutting of education for the masses by the better off. Are we a community or a bunch of gated encampments? We all suffer when public health education and services are ignored.
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JT on 01/09/2010 22:30:44
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I am so not drinking fountain sodas ever again
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dilt on 01/10/2010 07:49:07
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Urine while not sterike, is quite clean. However it is a good medium for bacteria to feed on, and as such does not remain clean for very long. Anyone using piss to flush out a eye or a wound should follow it up with clean water and a proper disinfectant.
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Lucky on 01/11/2010 12:56:54
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I never, never allow the wait staff to bring me fountain drinks or water from those fountains after having been devastated by severe diarrhea every time I drank even water. I now ask that all my water be brought from the kitchen faucet and watch and see that that is where it comes from. I always thought it was because the machines were not cleaned regularly. I have had sepsis from E-Coli previously and nearly died from it. I never want to go through that again. Please be careful when ordering drinks while you eat at restaurants!!!!
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Byta elbolag on 05/19/2010 12:17:01
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Well, there are probably worse sources of bacteria than soda fountains in most restaurants. Not everything can be 100% sterile.
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jon on 08/04/2010 13:41:42
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This is only ONE reason I avoid restaurants like the plague, pun intended.
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attorney liability insurance on 08/13/2010 07:47:15
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i have learnt more about this post so I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me
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free web advertising on 10/14/2010 04:07:56
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This is a place I really want to visit when I was a kid. Cape town is beautiful. You can see it for yourself in here.
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Vending Machines on 12/13/2010 22:41:23
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I personally think this is why Americans are so terrified of germs. Seriously, if this was so dangerous and a threat to our health, don't you think more people would have gotten sick by now? The only reason people freak out is because researches expose what no one really needs to know.
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