An undercover investigation by the BBC has revealed that ice obtained from three major UK coffee chains contains faecal bacteria. The coffee chains being investigated were Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero.
After the report was released by the watchdog program, the three chains indicated that they were taking steps to remedy the situation. A food-borne pathogens expert and a Quadram Institute Bioscience researcher, Rob Kingsley, said the revelations should be a cause of extreme concern.
“Coliforms are an indicator of faecal contamination which means that essentially anything which is in faeces could be in that ice,” Kingsley said adding that other bacteria which might be potentially more dangerous could be present in the ice too.
High bacteria levels
The three coffee chains are not the only or the first food outlets to have been exposed as stocking products containing high bacteria levels. In 2016 Rip Off Britain, another BBC program, also discovered that there were high fecal bacteria levels in ice obtained from a Birmingham-located KFC restaurant. Ice from a couple of coffee chains such as Caffe Nero and Costa was also tested but at the time the bacteria levels were not concerning. The difference with this time around, however, is that there were more coffee shops tested.
According to the microbiologist who carried out the analysis for the BBC, Margarita Gomez Escalada, the ice could have been contaminated when it came into contact with unclean hands. Ice buckets and ice machines could also have made the matter worse in the event that they were improperly cleaned.
Total bacteria count
Escalada pointed out that by law the bacteria levels that are acceptable in tap water is about 10 microorganisms in every milliliter. In the ice obtained from the coffee chains there were hundreds of microorganisms in every milliliter. The analysis focused on fecal bacteria count as well as total bacteria count. In some samples there were high total bacteria levels but not high fecal bacteria levels while in other samples exhibited high fecal and total bacteria levels.
While some of the opportunistic pathogens found do not cause disease to healthy people, individuals suffering from weakened immunity were likely to fall ill. Despite the alarm that the BBC investigation might raise, fecal bacteria is fairly common. According to scientists about 50% of all coffee cups in offices contain fecal bacteria. The fecal matter gets into the cups when they are cleaned using dirty sponges.