We assume we are safe anytime we order a drink from popular food outlets. However, BBC One’s Watchdog programme recently revealed how even the best-known UK brands fall foul of standards. Reporters tested fizzy beverages from Cineworld, Odeon and Vue cinemas for bacteria levels with startling results: seven out of the thirty tested branches had unacceptable levels of bacteria.

The bacteria types identified ranged from salmonella in drinks to listeria contaminating drinks holders with levels as much as 10,000-times the acceptable limit. It’s not just the cinemas at fault. Reports of faecal matter on the ice at fast-food outlets have also emerged; while iced drinks at major coffee chains showed the same findings with as many as seven-in-ten drinks from popular UK coffee shop, Costa, testing positive for coliform bacteria.

What are the long-term effects of contamination?

Even elevated bacteria levels are unlikely to cause illness if you are in good health.Children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems may be more at risk.

Salmonella

Salmonella is a common cause of food poisoning, resulting in diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. The bacteria are usually found on raw meats and poultry but can cross-contaminate other foodstuffs due to poor hygiene. If you contract Salmonella, keep hydrated, take electrolyte supplements and wash your hands to avoid infecting others. If symptoms persist or are severe, seek medical attention, but there should be no long-term effects provided you are adequately treated.

Listeria

Listeria, like Salmonella, can result from poor hygiene and results in similar symptoms. The listeria bacteria cause listeriosis, which is best treated at home for those in good health. If you have a compromised or weakened immune system, are pregnant, are an infant or elderly – you are advised to seek medical advice to avoid complications.

Coliform

Coliform bacteria are relatively harmless and help people digest their food. The presence of faecal coliforms indicates poor hygiene given the bacteria comes from the hosts’ intestines. Moreover, the bacteria can indicate the presence of other pathogens, hence the cause for concern if found in high numbers. Elevated levels of bacteria can result in stomach cramps, fever and nausea, which could become severe for those with weaker immune systems.

How frequently does bacteria put us at risk?

While you’d hope the health standards of any high street chain are among the best, the findings in Britain suggest otherwise: 70 per cent of tested iced drinks from Costa had elevated bacteria levels; with 30 per cent of samples in both Starbucks and Caffe Nero also above the acceptable threshold.

Unfortunately, fast food chains perform no better: McDonald’s matched Starbucks’ rate for excessive bacteria; Burger King failed in six-out-of-ten drinks; while KFC suffered a similar plight to Costa Coffee.

Worryingly, BBC’s Watchdog described the contamination as significant in most of cases. With experts suggesting the findings are either a hygiene issue, or result from contaminated water sources – so, employees are either not washing their hands, or not cleaning the dispensers.

What is the most effective means of a constant source of clean water?

A reliable filtration system provides a steady stream of chilled water, still or sparkling, while guaranteeing no impurities. This will reduce your carbon footprint, plastic consumption and environmental impact. By getting in touch with a Purezza expert, you can find a system more sustainable than bottled water. An added benefit is the simplicity in enhancing the flavour of filtered water to match your guests’ preferences.

3 tips for cold drink safety

  1. Establish a Regular Cleaning Schedule - Create a cleaning schedule, then follow it religiously. List tasks and ask employees to tick off each one once complete.
  2. Provide Sinks - A common cause of bacterial contamination comes from cross-contamination, such as unwashed hands. Make sure employees have the facilities to keep hands clean and establish a clear hygiene policy.
  3. Check Your Ice - An area we often overlook; ice requires attention. Check supplier quality, make sure employees wash their hands, and ensure ice trays and dispensers are emptied and cleaned both frequently and thoroughly.

The presence of bacteria at such elevated levels is legitimate grounds for concern. Operators should feel compelled to take the necessary steps to guarantee the safety of their customers. Failure to do so could result in widespread illness or worse, a risk no-one should be willing to face. How confident are you in the hygiene level of your business?