Monday, 23 May 2011

Dirty Soda fountains could cause severe health complications

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Next time you order for a glass of fruit juice or soft drink dispensed  through soda fountains in a multiplex or fast food centre, make it sure you are not compromising on your health. Fountain-dispensed soft drinks and fruit juices mixed with ice could be a potential source of harmful bacteria including coliform responsible for uncontrolled diarrhoea and vomiting.
The microbiology laboratory of the city-based National Geophysical Research Institute collected as many as 16 samples of fruit juices, ice and unbottled fountain-dispensed soft drinks from shopping malls, cinema halls and fast-food centres managed by multinational firms, and analysed them for the presence of coliforms. A majority of the samples 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 carbondioxide for dispensing through soda fountains in shopping malls, multiplexes and fast food chains. "The purity or otherwise of the unbottled soft drinks served through soda fountains 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 adopted different microbiological methods to evaluate the safety level for human consumption of soft drinks and street-vended fruit juices. "Our study has confirmed the presence of pathogenic bacterial counts in significantly high numbers in juices containing ice. Those without ice showed least contamination. Contamination is mainly due to poor quality of water used for preparation of ice, unhygienic conditions and bad sanitation on the premises," Dr Rasheed pointed out.
Besides Dr Dayal and Dr Rasheed, Dr Veena, Ms M Lakshmi and Ms K Deepti are part of the team that analysed the samples. Though the NGRI researchers could not find much contamination in soda fountains in the city, a similar study conducted in the USA last year 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 faecal contamination of soft drinks. E coli lives in the human digestive system and its presence elsewhere signifies mixture of the sample with human faeces. When almost half of the soft drink samples in the USA had coliform bacteria, one can imagine the level of contamination in India, a country known for compromised hygiene.
According to NGRI scientists, bottled aerated soft drinks could be relatively safer than the fountain-dispensed ones as the pressure of carbondioxide and the acidity levels in bottled beverages prevent growth of harmful bacteria. The rubber tubing in the soda fountain if not cleaned properly at regular intervals could turn out to be the breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria.
"The main culprit in most of the cases is the ice, because of the type of water used and the way ice blocks are broken to pieces. "Street vended fruit juices are not recommended for human consumption as they are contaminated by various sources," Dr Rasheed warned.

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