While fountain soda is something a good number of New Yorkers request to drink when dining out, concerns about cleanliness have raised questions about whether these drinks are actually safe to consume.

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A study from 2010 revealed that almost half of the soda fountain beverages sampled were contaminated with coliform bacteria which obviously led to increased worries about the actual cleanliness of these fountains. So, are restaurant fountain sodas really dirty?

A study which was conducted in September of this year showed similar results to the study that was done in 2010. A more recent study found that 41 percent of the swabbed soda fountains tested positive for coliform bacteria. Additionally, 25 percent of the tested fountains had a water temperature conducive to the growth of biofilms, which are clusters of bacteria that can potentially pose a threat to public health and safety. These biofilms can harbor pathogenic microorganisms which raised a lot of concerns about the true cleanliness of fountain soda.

Soda Fountains Should Be Cleaned Regularly

In theory, soda fountains should adhere to strict guidelines for maintaining cleanliness just as other restaurant equipment does. According to Katie Heil, a food and beverage content manager for Certus, soda fountains are "recommended to be sanitized as frequently as the fountain manufacturer specifies or as required to prevent the accumulation of grime and mold."

Manufacturer Recommended Soda Fountain Cleaning Guidelines

Manufacturers such as Pepsi and Coke suggest daily removal, cleaning, and sanitization of nozzles, as well as weekly cleaning and sanitization of syrup connectors, which connect the soda syrup to the machine lines. If restaurants follow these guidelines, there should be no issue and the restaurant's soda fountains should be sanitary and safe for anyone to enjoy a soda from.

Understaffing Can Lead to Neglected Soda Fountains

However, the reality doesn't always meet these expectations. Many restaurants, particularly those understaffed or with limited resources, find it challenging to complete tasks like cleaning soda fountains as they juggle their other responsibilities. According to Heil, while cleaning soda fountains might be listed as a daily task, it is often neglected, especially when compared to more visible cleaning tasks that contribute to the overall cleanliness of the restaurant.

Finding Fecal Bacteria in Soda Fountains

However, not keeping a soda fountain well-cleaned has the potential for alarming consequences. Fecal bacteria, including E. coli, have been discovered in soda fountain samples. The presence of bacteria such as Chryseobacterium minigosepticum further raises concerns, as it can be particularly harmful to individuals with weak immune systems, including infants.

Mold Thrives in Soda Fountains

Mold is another issue that comes from poor or improper cleaning Mold thrives in high-moisture environments and feeds on sugar, making uncleaned nozzles and lines the perfect breeding ground. If a soda fountain isn't properly cleaned, mold can accumulate and contaminate the soda being dispensed.

Bugs Love Soda Fountains

Also, bugs are attracted to the sugar in soda fountains and regular cleaning prevents the buildup of residue that would attract bugs. However, if not properly cleaned, soda fountains become a paradise for bugs seeking a sugary feast.

While many soda fountains are perfectly sanitary, there is always a possibility of encountering a dirty one. Being aware of the potential risks and taking necessary precautions can help consumers make informed choices when deciding whether to indulge in a restaurant fountain drink. If you're in a place that doesn't seem to be as spotless as it should be, instead of ordering a fountain drink, consider asking for an alternative option, such as ordering a bottled drink.

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