Dirty Soda fountains could cause severe health complications
Syed Akbar Hyderabad: Next time you order for a glass of fruit juice or soft drink dispensedthrough soda fountains in a multiplex or fast food centre, make it sure you are notcompromising on your health. Fountain-dispensed soft drinks and fruit juices mixed withice could be a potential source of harmful bacteria including coliform responsible foruncontrolled diarrhoea and vomiting. The microbiology laboratory of the city-based National Geophysical Research Institutecollected as many as 16 samples of fruit juices, ice and unbottled fountain-dispensedsoft drinks from shopping malls, cinema halls and fast-food centres managed bymultinational firms, and analysed them for the presence of coliforms. A majority of thesamples had harmful bacteria that could cause severe health complications in people with compromised immunity and sensitive digestive system. Soft drink manufacturers supply concentrate, which is mixed with water and carbondioxidefor dispensing through soda fountains in shopping malls, multiplexes and fast foodchains. "The purity or otherwise of the unbottled soft drinks served through sodafountains depends on the water mixed. If the water is contaminated, the trouble begins.No one is sure about the purity of the water used. The machine has to be cleaned at regular intervals to keep it germ-free," said NGRI-CSIR senior scientist Dr AM Dayal. Dr Mohammad Abdul Rasheed, incharge of the microbiology lab, said they had adopteddifferent microbiological methods to evaluate the safety level for human consumption ofsoft drinks and street-vended fruit juices. "Our study has confirmed the presence ofpathogenic bacterial counts in significantly high numbers in juices containing ice. Thosewithout ice showed least contamination. Contamination is mainly due to poor quality ofwater used for preparation of ice, unhygienic conditions and bad sanitation on thepremises," Dr Rasheed pointed out. Besides Dr Dayal and Dr Rasheed, Dr Veena, Ms M Lakshmi and Ms K Deepti are part of theteam that analysed the samples. Though the NGRI researchers could not find muchcontamination in soda fountains in the city, a similar study conducted in the USA lastyear revealed the presence of E coli in well known brands of beverages. The US study based on 30 samples collected from soda machines found a possible faecalcontamination of soft drinks. E coli lives in the human digestive system and its presenceelsewhere signifies mixture of the sample with human faeces. When almost half of the softdrink samples in the USA had coliform bacteria, one can imagine the level ofcontamination in India, a country known for compromised hygiene. According to NGRI scientists, bottled aerated soft drinks could be relatively safer thanthe fountain-dispensed ones as the pressure of carbondioxide and the acidity levels inbottled beverages prevent growth of harmful bacteria. The rubber tubing in the sodafountain if not cleaned properly at regular intervals could turn out to be the breedingground for infection-causing bacteria. "The main culprit in most of the cases is the ice, because of the type of water used andthe way ice blocks are broken to pieces. "Street vended fruit juices are not recommendedfor human consumption as they are contaminated by various sources," Dr Rasheed warned.