Other opportunistic pathogenic microorganisms found included Chryseobacterium meningosepticum and of Klebsiella, Staphylococcus, Stenotrophomonas, Candida, and Serratia. Most of the identified bacteria showed resistance to one or more of 11 antibiotics tested.
While there have been few certified outbreaks over in the last ten years related to soda fountains, many incidents of food poisoning go unreported.
The reasons to avoid eating at fast food establishments are piling up faster than you can say, “Pour me another Coke-a coli.”
As disgusting as it sounds, bacteria might be the least damaging part of your soft drink. But this malfeasance of hygiene is not the first we’ve heard about in recent years.
It was only a few years ago when twelve year-old middle schooler Jasmine Roberts won the science fair at her school when she discovered that the ice used in the drinks of fast food restaurants had more bacteria than the toilet water.
Then, in 2008, we learned that two of every three restaurant lemon wedges tested were covered in disease-causing bacteria.
Let’s face it. They’re everywhere.
Bacteria are cleverly adaptive, resilient, and prolific. In fact, depending on which source you choose to believe, between 2 and 9 pounds of your body weight is from bacteria, the majority of which is in your intestinal tract. All the bacteria living inside you would fill a half-gallon jug.
“You are more bacteria than you are you.”
Ideally, the majority of these bugs are doing you a favor, from producing chemicals that help you harness energy to keeping your immune system strong.
But more recently, scientists have discovered another gift from our single-celled friends: a handful of human genes—the consensus is around 40—appear to be bacterial in origin1.
Your life, and even your identity, is more closely linked to the microbial world than you might have thought.
Staying Safe in the Bacteria Cafeteria
If you are a walking Petri dish, then do you really need to worry about what you’re exposed to?
Well, yes and no.
You CAN get sick, but you are unlikely to if you have a strong immune system. Although there are many ways you might end up with a weakened immune system, the more common contributing factors are:
Vitamin D deficiency resulting in the production of less antimicrobial peptides
Eating too much sugar and too many grains, which will seriously impair your immune response.
Not getting enough sleep
Insufficient exercise, which will impair lymphatic flow and exchange and also cause your insulin levels to rise and impair your immune system.
Inadequately managing emotional stressors in your life, which may be the most important variable of all.
Any combination of the above
You can’t control what other people do hygienically, but you can control what you do. The better you are taking care of yourself in terms of nutrition and sleep and so on, the more resilient you will be and the less you’ll have to worry about those inescapable pathogens around you.
Good hand washing with basic soap and water is a crucial part of staying well, since you are more likely to acquire an infection by shaking someone’s hand than by kissing them.
Taking a high-quality probiotic (good bacteria) also helps you create a robust immune system.
Food Poisoning is Highly Underreported
Mishandled food and beverages, such as lemon wedges that nearly crawl across your plate on their own, are causing 76 million cases of food poisoning each year in the US.
The CDC reports that, of the 76 million food poisoning cases, there are about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. But these are the most severe and tend to happen to the very old, the very young, and the folks with compromised immune systems[ii] .
It is believed that most food borne infections go undiagnosed and unreported, particularly the milder cases.
If you have food poisoning, your symptoms might range from an upset stomach to diarrhea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps and dehydration.
The causes of food poisoning break down as follows:
55 percent from improper cooking and food storage
24 percent from poor hygiene
3 percent from unsafe food sources
Keeping your hands clean while working with food is the most important thing you can do to prevent food poisoning, which is where restaurant workers fall short.
Of course, the fact that now many soda machines are “self-serve” makes them even more vulnerable.
Of the 20 common pathogens causing food poisoning, campylobacter is the leading cause of bacterial food poisoning in the US, responsible for several million cases per year. Most of it is from chicken, since up to 70-90 percent of commercial chickens are infected with this bacteria, according to CDC estimates.
What to do If You Think You Have Food Poisoning
According to the Food Standards Agency, there are three main goals if you find yourself with a food borne illness:
1. Rehydrate yourself. Be sure to drink plenty of water since dehydration can be a serious side effect.
2. Prevent the spread. Wash your hands regularly, especially after using the toilet and before preparing food. Avoid preparing food for others if you are ill.
3. Report it. If you believe your illness was caused by food prepared outside your home, report it to your local environmental health service.
What they don’t add but maybe the most important of all, is to take large doses of a high quality probiotic. You can take ten to twenty nearly every hour as there is no danger on overdosing.
Symptoms from food poisoning could occur within 30 minutes of eating the offensive meal, or could take a couple of days to manifest. The illness is usually limited to a couple of days.
If symptoms last longer or are more severe, you might need to see your physician.
A Coffee that’s the Cat’s Meow
On a lighter note, an article about fecal bacteria in soda fountains just isn’t complete without mentioning a special type of coffee bean that...well, passes through an exotic variety of Asian cats (called a civet) before becoming your cup o’ joe.
If you aren’t squeamish about poo in your beverages, you might want to try out Kopi Luwak[iii], or civet coffee, which is considered the cat’s meow in Indonesia for its particularly robust flavor.
The civet isn’t actually a feline at all but a relative of the mongoose.
The civet eats the very ripest berries, which pass through its digestive tract and are excreted whole. The process reportedly results in a particularly robust flavor due to an enzyme in the cat’s body.
The “enhanced” beans are then roasted in the usual way...if you could call ANYTHING about this usual.
This culinary marvel is offered by only one coffee roaster in the US—Bennett’s Fresh Roast of Fort Myers, Florida—where you can try out a 12-ounce mug of the poo-brew for a meager $20.
According to the Food Poison Journal[iv], the beans are roasted at 600 degrees and then brewed to about 200 degrees, in order to destroy any remaining E. coli or other nasty freeloaders.
Good luck with that.
Most cats live by the creed, “Never eat where you poop.” Apparently some humans missed that memo
[i] Wenner M. “Humans carry more bacterial cells than human ones” (November 30, 2007) Scientific American
[ii] “Prevalence and incidence of food poisoning,” Wrong Diagnosis
[iii] Emry D. “Is Kopi Luwak for real?”
[iv] Caywood C. “Here kitty, kitty, I need my morning coffee” (September 28, 2009) Food Poison Journal