Ice From Six out of Ten Restaurants Has More Bacteria Than Toilet Water
The ice served in six out of ten of Britain’s most popular high street restaurants contains more bacteria than the water found in their toilets, an investigation by The Mail on Sunday has found.
Scientific tests have shown that ice from branches of McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, Cafe Rouge and Nando’s all had higher levels of bacteria than samples of water taken from their lavatory bowls. Experts say it could be due to them being cleaned more often than the ice machines.
None of the samples found presented an immediate health danger, but four contained such high levels of microbes the restaurants should be considered a ‘hygiene risk’, according to a Government-accredited laboratory.
The samples from McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and Nando’s all suggested ‘poor hygiene’ over their ice, the laboratory said.
In the cases of Nando’s and Burger King, the levels of bacteria in ice were more than double than that which the scientists said they expect to see in drinking water.
For the tests, staff were asked to provide a sample of ice in a sterile bag. A sample of water in the restaurant toilet was also taken by an accredited environmental health practitioner.
The samples, obtained from branches of ten chains in Basingstoke, Hampshire, were then couriered in a fridge to Microtech Services Wessex in Bournemouth, Dorset, for testing.
Experts said the samples from McDonald’s, KFC, and Nando’s showed that contamination was likely to have been caused by ‘environmental issues’, such as a dirty ice machine.
The Burger King result suggested the cause was human contamination, likely to be from a staff member failing to wash their hands.
The results have prompted some of the chains to review their cleaning procedures, although two companies disputed the findings.
Dr Melody Greenwood, a former laboratory director for the Health Protection Agency, said the results show restaurants need to ensure staff are properly trained to handle ice.
‘This is a warning,’ she said. ‘It is easy to forget ice can carry bacteria because they think it is too cold for germs, but that is far from the truth. Nasty bugs such as E.coli can lurk in ice machines. In some cases, such as Nando’s, we found double the amount of bacteria we would expect to find [in drinking water]. This is caused by things such as a failure to clean machines and scoops used by staff.’
The samples were tested for pathogens and their total bacteria counts at 22C and 37C. Higher counts at 37C are often associated with contamination by human or animal contact, such as meat in the kitchen. Raised 22C counts are usually due to environmental organisms and can indicate a failure to clean ice machines.
At 22C, Nando’s had the highest bacterial levels. The laboratory’s guidelines recommend no more than 1,000 organisms per ml of liquid. Nando’s had 2,100, McDonald’s 1,400, and KFC 1,100.
At 37C, guidelines state that levels exceeding 100 organisms per ml show evidence of poor hygiene. Burger King was the only one to surpass the limit, with 260 organisms.
Scientists say there is a satisfactory level of bacteria that can be higher than that found in toilet water. The ice quality at Starbucks and Cafe Rouge fell into this category.
A Burger King spokesman said: ‘We are working with the franchisee to investigate the situation.’ A spokesperson for the franchisee that operates the KFC said: ‘We have retrained staff on procedures as a precaution.’
At Cafe Rouge a spokesman said: ‘We take such issues very seriously and have immediately taken actions to review the ice-making process at this restaurant.
And a McDonald’s spokesman said: ‘The ice tested contained low levels of common bacteria considered acceptable and safe for consumption.’
Starbucks said the ice sample had inadvertently been contaminated by staff when they opened the sterile bag. A spokesman said: ‘CCTV footage confirms that it was contaminated before it was tested.’
A Nando’s spokesman said: ‘We challenge these results and do not accept that they demonstrate any failings.’