Tuesday, January 12, 2010

There’s Something Floating in my Drink!

If you have a weak stomach, you may want to exercise caution before reading this particular post. As a matter of fact, if you have a weak immune system, you may want to think twice before you fill your cup with your favourite soda at your local fast food joint.

Apparently someone from Hollins University in Virginia, USA must have thought their cola tasted a little off and figured that perhaps the fountain might be a bit unkempt. So a team of scientist went on a mission to see how clean those self-serve fountains really are, and to serve as a comparative analysis, they looked at a few 'behind-the-counter' fountains as well. Now keep in mind, this study was done in the US…so you can either assume that we Canadians are a fickle (not fecal) bunch, or you can assume that our cleanliness habits are similar to those of our friends south of the border. And not to perpetuate any inaccuracies or misprints, I got my hands on the actual study…so what you'll see here is from the study itself…not a story about the study.

For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to refer to those self-serving fountains…you know the ones…they sit in the lobby area of the restaurant; you order a drink, and the cashier hands you a cup for you to go and fill yourself…I'm going to refer to these as Pop-Overly-Polluted, or POP. The 'behind-the-counter' fountains…the ones that only paid staff can access, and when you order a drink they do all the work and drop down a filled cup of your requested beverage…lid and all…I'll call these POP2.

When you hear the phrase "gathering around the office cooler", it would appear that bacteria mimic our desire to hang out in groups. More than 11% of beverages collected from POP and POP2 contained Escherichia coli, aka E-Coli. If that wasn't a good enough 'ick' factor for you, the report shows that over 17% of the beverages collected contained Chryseobacterium meningosepticum, or loosely translated means: bacteria which causes meningitis. While I'm not sure which is worse…the ickiness of the POP surroundings, or the fact that most of the identified bacteria "showed resistance to one or more of the 11 tested antibiotics".

Like any scientific study, strict controls were set in place and a tonne of documentation was completed. The samples included sugary drinks, diet drinks, and water. To test the contamination against a sample of (what should be) a controlled compliment, they purchased bottled drinks of the identical make up from a variety store. They conducted studies on POP and POP2 to see if there was any contamination difference between the fountains. After they collected their samples and followed a set process for testing, they found virtually no microbial growth in the bottled drinks, however over 70% of POP and POP2 samples had bacterial growth. And, if you thought there might be a difference in the amount of bacteria between POP and POP2…well, you'd be wrong. If you were looking to know which was safer, you may want to consider the time you decide to visit your local eatery. Apparently early morning soda drinkers are exposed to higher bacteria opportunities than those who chose to eat later in the afternoon.

So the next time you make that trip to your local fast food joint, maybe this could be a good argument for getting your drink in a bottle. After all, how many folks do you think lined up at the fountain to re-fill their cup before you took your turn? You'd probably be safer just to kiss everyone in the place instead. (Please don't follow this advice, as there has not been a study to prove whether this is the case or not J)

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