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Coffee and fast food ice probe

William Hatchett27/07/2017 - 14:00

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Lewis: coffee warning
Lewis: coffee warning

CIEH has featured prominently in two prime-time BBC programmes that highlighted the discovery of faecal bacteria in ice from high street coffee shops and fast food outlets, reaching audiences all over the world. BBC 1’s Watchdog, broadcast on 28 June, was devoted to the popular high street chains Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffé Nero, which have almost 4,000 outlets. Starbucks is the biggest coffee chain in the UK.

Four swabbed samples were sent to a lab for testing from 10 branches of each of the chains. The samples were obtained from tables, trays, high chairs and ice. While tables and high chairs were found to be relatively clear, the results for trays and ice were disturbing

Tray swabs from Caffé Nero and Starbucks had high bacteria counts – three of six trays from Café Nero were contaminated with faecal coliforms at very high levels. But the most alarming findings came from ice. Three out of ten of the Starbucks and Caffe Nero ice samples and seven out of ten of those from Costa Coffee contained ‘significant’ levels of faecal coliforms.

Tony Lewis, CIEH head of policy, told the programme: ‘The levels of contamination of faecal bacteria you found concerns me a lot. These dangerous opportunistic pathogens are the source of human diseases and you found them in significant numbers. This is of concern because they should not be found at any level.’

Presented by Nikki Fox, the programme explained that the most probable cause of the contamination was staff who had not washed their hands after going to the toilet touching ice scoops or ice wells.
All companies stressed to the programs how importantly they take hygiene and cleanliness and pointed out the high food hygiene ratings achieved by their outlets. Caffe Nero and Starbucks launched investigations.

Costa updated its ice handling guidance, including storing ice scoops, and all ice making equipment was deep cleaned. Starbucks that said all employees nationwide had received updated training on food hygiene and been instructed never to touch ice.

The Watchdog findings were widely reported by broadcast, print and social media all over the world. CIEH commented that the failings identified in the programme were ‘very serious and require immediate attention’. It continued: ‘For those coffee shops identified, we recommend an urgent and thorough review of food safety procedures and investing in training for staff so they are reminded of their responsibility to ensure good hygiene.’

But it added: ‘It is important that those of us who enjoy our coffee, and particular our iced drinks during the summer, do not panic. The issues identified in this case came from an extremely small sample and we have no reason to suspect that these findings will be the same everywhere.’

A further Watchdog programme, broadcast on 19 July, was devoted to the same issue in the fast food industry, focusing on MacDonalds, Burger King and KFC, with ice tested from ten branches of each chain.

Mr Lewis told the programme: ‘I would have hoped, following our previous findings that businesses producing ice drinks would have stepped up the mark looked at the results and made sure that their ice machines were clean.’

In fact, more than half of the ice samples tested contained faecal contamination – a worse result than that obtained for the coffee shops. For McDonalds, traces of faecal coliforms were found in three out of ten samples, in Burger King, six were contaminated, four with significant levels. For KFC, seven were contaminated, five at significant levels. Overall, more than half of samples contained faecal bacteria.

Mr Lewis described the results as ‘extremely worrying’. He explained: ‘With these sorts of levels, you have to look at the people making the ice and handling the ice which they are putting into customers’ drinks and you have to look at whether the machines themselves are clean. The risk is unacceptable and I would be particularly concerned for customers who are immuno-compromised.’ He added: ‘We have now looked at coffee shops and fast food outlets. The likelihood is that this problem is in other places too.’

The same programme featured EHP Stewart Petrie, director of environmental health for the States of Jersey. Mr Petrie instigated ice checking for all Jersey coffee shops following the findings of the progamme on Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffé Nero.

He said: ‘We’re here to protect people from anything that might affect their health and clearly if there’s a suggestion that ice, for example, in iced coffee, is a problem, we need to check that.
The samples were all clean, but Jersey, the programme explained, is now set to included ice testing as a regular feature of its inspections of pubs, night clubs, bars and restaurants.

The fast food edition of Watchdog had a similar impact and worldwide reach as the show devoted to coffee shops. Following its transmission, a spokesperson for, KFC UK&I, said: ‘We are shocked and extremely disappointed by these results. We have strict procedures for the management and handling of ice, including daily and weekly inspections and cleaning of the ice machine and storage holds, as well as the routine testing of ice quality across our business. We immediately shut down the ice machines in the restaurants affected to conduct a thorough clean and inspection, and reinforced the importance of adhering to our strict procedures to all employees.’

McDonald’s said: ‘We have robust procedures in place with regard to the production, storage and handling of ice in our UK restaurants. Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and people and we will continue to review our procedures and training, working closely with our restaurant teams to ensure those procedures are adhered to at all times. Hygiene and safety practices are of the utmost importance to us and we’re proud that 99 per cent of our restaurants have an independent hygiene rating of either good or very good.

Burger King said: ‘Cleanliness and hygiene are a top priority for the Burger King brand. The strict procedures we have in place are designed to ensure all guests have a positive experience each time they visit our restaurants. We are proactively working with our franchisees in the U.K. to reinforce these procedures. This report is an opportunity for us to emphasise our training procedures and ensure all operations and safety standards are upheld in all Burger King restaurants.’


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