An investigation launched by the BBC programme Watchdog found high levels of faecal bacteria in the ice drinks of three of the UK’s biggest coffee shop chains. Faecal coliforms, which contain disease-causing pathogens, were present in 7/10 ice samples in Costa, 3/10 in Caffè Nero, and 3/10 in Starbucks. Margarita Gomez Escalada, a microbiologist and senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, said that the ice could have been contaminated by unclean hands. She also added that, if the ice machines and ice buckets were not cleaned properly, this could also have contaminated the ice.
Commenting on the findings, expert in food-borne pathogens and research leader at the Quadram Institute Bioscience Rob Kingsley, said: ‘Coliforms are an indicator of faecal contamination, which means that essentially anything which is in faeces could be in that ice. I would certainly think twice about eating something which may contain faecal contamination at that level, where it is detectable.’
The samples taken from all three coffee chains looked at the total bacteria count as well as the faecal bacteria count. While some samples showed high levels of bacteria, excluding faecal bacteria, some samples showed high levels of both. Speaking of the risks that these bacteria can cause, Gomez Escalada said that they can cause disease to those whose immunity is reduced.
In response to these results, a Starbucks spokesperson said: ‘We have moved quickly to conduct our own investigation into the claims about the stores. All employees nationwide have received updated training on our high standards of hygiene, including ice handling.’
Costa also responded by saying: ‘We were disappointed with the findings, especially as these stores are all rated “very good” with a top hygiene rating of five. Following these results, we took immediate action to review our food safety procedures and have updated our ice-handling guidelines and are in the process of introducing new ice equipment storage across our estate.’
A spokesperson for Caffè Nero also expressed the company’s concerns about the results and said: ‘A thorough investigation is now underway and the appropriate action will be taken.’
What do you think about these results? Do you think more steps should be put in place to create better awareness for customers? Let us know in the comment section below!