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The Soda Fountain: Breeding Ground for Fecal Bacteria?

A recent study shows that the soda fountain may harbor some unwelcome additions in the form of fecal bacteria. CNN reports that almost half of the 90 drinks analyzed in the study tested positive for coliform bacteria, which means that there is a possible fecal contamination. The study was published in this month's issue of International Journal of Food Microbiology. Some other bacteria that were found in the samples? E. coli and antibiotic resistant bacteria.

While researchers expected to find some bacteria in their samples, they were surprised at the presence of fecal bateria in the drinks. Renee Godard, lead author of the study and professor of biology and environmental studies at Hollins University told CNN that the presence of these bacteria could cause health problems: "It's simply that some bacteria may potentially cause some disease or gastrointestinal distress. One thing we hesitate with is that people get afraid of bacteria. Many of them are benign or helpful, but certainly, I don't want E.coli in my beverage."

While the United States Environmental Protection Agency has stringent drinking water standards, the study found that most soda fountains fell far below those standards. This caused the scientists conducting the study to raise concern over the safety of the soda fountain. They wrote: "The large number of beverages and soda fountain machines containing E. coli is still of considerable concern... and suggests that more pathogenic strains of bacteria could persist and thrive in soda fountain machines if introduced."

The source of the fecal bacteria remains unknown. The New York Daily News reports that the scientists speculate that the plastic tubing may be the culprit. "Our best guess is that they're actually establishing themselves on the lining of the plastic tubing," Renee Godard told "The reason we say that is in other areas, such as hospitals, it is known that bacteria can establish themselves on plastic tubing for machines."

It seems that the findings are not surprising to fellow microbiologists. quotes Philip Tierno, director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center as saying, "Wherever man is there will be representation of feces."

The scientists recommend that soda fountains be cleaned daily and that the public should not be able to use the machine to get their own sodas.

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