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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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