A BBC investigation has found that ice from three of the UK’s biggest coffee chains contained varying levels of faecal bacteria. Mike Williams is director of leading UK food safety consultancy STS. He says that while the reports are concerning, the story has a positive outcome:
“Ice sampling during the summer months is nothing new and we regularly see news stories that raise eyebrows regarding bacterial content. The good news is that food poisoning outbreaks are rarely, if ever, attributed to ice so there should not be too much to fear.
“The sampling that is talked about in these articles identified the bacteria found in the ice as faecal bacteria. This is not great news but this is more of an indication that cleaning or personal hygiene standards need to be improved in the stores rather than identifying a potential major outbreak of illness just around the corner! The coffee chains tested have taken very appropriate actions to improve standards as a result of the sampling results and I feel that this is a positive outcome.
“It’s actually quite easy for ice machines to become contaminated. Scoops need to be kept thoroughly clean to help prevent contamination and there should be controls in place to maintain ice machine cleanliness. Basic but essential controls such as ensuring there is no hand contact (ever) with the ice, making sure that utensils other than scoops e.g. glasses are not used to scoop the ice and drinks bottles are not placed in the ice machine as well as regular emptying and sanitising will ensure that there is no contamination.
“Faecal bacteria in ice makes a great headline but it really needs to be looked at in context – ice is not a common source of food poisoning. The story here is more the wider connotations of poor handling practices of all types of food that can lead to food poisoning and, in many ways, dirty ice could be just an indicative tip of the iceberg!”