This is the truth. The lunch special from the cafeteria downstairs today included a drink, so I had just finished a fountain soda when I was forwarded a link to this study. Yikes. A study published this month in the International Journal of Food Microbiology reported on the presence of coliform bacteria in nearly 50% of the beverages tested. Abstract.
Tests were conducted on 90 fountain beverages, from both self-service and store-personnel dispensers. 48% of the beverages tested positive for coliform bacteria. The tests revealed the presence of Escherichia Coli in 11% of the samples. Escherichia Coli is the general name for a family of bacteria that includes E. coli O157:H7. The presence of Escherichia Coli, generally, does not necessarily indicate the presence of the more dangerous E. coli O157:H7. Also found were Klebsiella, Staphylococcus, Stenotrophomonas, Candida, and Serratia. Further, a majority of the bacteria tested showed resistance to at least some bacteria.
What impact the presence of the bacteria is having on public health is unclear. In its coverage of the story, ABC noted only one outbreak of illness in the previous 10 years linked to fountain soda. Potential illnesses linked to the beverages may be hard to track, as not all coliform bacteria have an infectious dose as low as higher-profile pathogens like E. coli O157:H7. Also other of these bacteria may cause illness, but may not be routinely tested for by doctors.