Self-Serve Soda Fountains: Serving up Fecal Bacteria

How about a large cola and a side order of fecal matter? I hate to spoil your appetite, but you might want to think twice about using those self-serve soda fountains.

Research from Hollins University in Roanoke, VA indicates that the plastic tubing inside the soda machines may be a breeding ground for fecal bacteria. 

Testing 90 beverages from 20 self-service and 10 employee-dispensed soda fountains in assorted fast food restaurants, the research team evaluated the results with respect to U.S. drinking water regulations. The drinks were analyzed for microbial contamination and coliform/fecal bacterium was detected in 48 percent of them, but only 20 percent of those exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for drinking water. E. coli was present in 11 percent of the drinks tested.

Dr. Alanna Levine explains:

Just how does fecal bacterial end up in the soft drink machines? Customers or employees who do not wash their hands properly and then touch the machine, or if the water lines are not thoroughly cleaned, allowing bacteria to spread throughout the water lines and into the drinks.

Hand washing is still the simplest — and cheapest — way to avoid getting sick, helping to prevent the common cold, diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, MRSA, food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and E. coli, and of course, the swine flu (H1N1), among other things. 

Employers need to get serious about enforcing strict hand washing techniques and educating their employees on the dangers of contamination, although that doesn’t address the issue of customers using self-serve soda fountains. 

There is a right way and a wrong way to wash your hands. The wrong way would be to give your hands an obligatory rinse with water because no one is looking. The right way, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is:

When washing hands with soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue rubbing hands for 15-20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.
  • Always use soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast-acting. When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • Apply product to the palm of one hand.
  • Rub hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry.

Although there have been no reports of illness caused by the bacteria, Dr. Levine cautioned that contaminated drinks could pose a threat to people who are already weakened by sickness. Symptoms of concern include vomiting, severe diarrhea, and abnormal cramping. If you have a weakened immune system, you just might want to skip the self-serve soda fountain.

Related Reading:The Single Best Way to Prevent Illness

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Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Darryl K.
Darryl K.6 years ago

ChecK out
There is a safe solution

Sheri P.
Sheri P7 years ago


DORIS L7 years ago


Robert Gibbons
Robert G7 years ago

My god why is everyone so scared of bad bacteria? We have immune systems for a reason.

charmaine c.
Charmaine C7 years ago

Gross! Double Yuck! Thanks for the information.

Michael P.
Michael P7 years ago

Thank you for posting this. I have a weakened immune system and become an emergency hospital admission two or three times a year so do all I can to reduce the risks.

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado7 years ago

I do wash my hands completely before eating.

Judith H.

Guess I will go back to the bottle. No more dipping or self serve from take outs. Lots of restaurants serve their drinks from these machines too and you never get to see where their source of your drink comes from. Getting so I am afraid to eat out anymore. Too many people involved in preparing and serving your food, some wear gloves-some not, some wear hair nets-some not, and chemical or cloth washing the table probably has been used to clean all the other tables for half a day. Guess we should all carry our own hand wash cloths, order drinks in a bottle, etc., etc. Think I will stay home, it is much cheaper and safer.

Michelle R.
J Thomas7 years ago

I'm gagging!