The amount of bacteria in ice cubes used for carbonated beverages at one KFC location was reportedly found to be 13 times higher than in toilet water in a lab test.
According to The Wall Street Journal, KFC issued a public apology following the China Central Television (CCTV) report. McDonald's and Kungfu announced investigations into the matter.
Experts told CCTV that dirty ice machines, poor awareness of food safety and sub-par sterilization routines contributed to the high amounts of bacteria in the ice.
Ding Ke, an associate professor of food science at Beijing University, said that these levels of bacteria could lead to dangerous diseases such as dysentery in people who consume contaminated ice, according to Shanghai Daily.
The story went viral on Sina Weibo after airing on CCTV, the predominant state television broadcaster in mainland China. A Huffington Post translation of the Sina Weibo post confirmed details about the levels of bacteria found in beverage ice.
An ABC 4 undercover investigation founs that the ice can be downright dirty. They randomly picked several Salt Lake Valley restaurants and collected a cup of ice from each.
“People assume because were freezing it and it's being put in a freezer that it's going to kill the contaminates or bacteria which is false,” said president of Summit Ice Brian Washnock. “The ice machines don't get cleaned as frequently as they should so they can potentially become bacteria traps,” said Washnock.
"There's a growing literature to suggest that these faucets can be a problem," said researcher Dr. Emily Sydnor. "It should be at least something people think about and consider a possible source of bacteria."
According to the health department, it can make the average person sick and can potentially cause death to someone with a weakened immune system. Health departments don't test ice for bacteria and fungus.
"Anything that we’re going to consume, if it’s not handled properly, can cause a health risk," said Debra Huffman, a microbiologist with the University of South Florida. In this country, she says, it’s not the water used to make ice that usually makes people sick, it’s the way people handle the ice. "It’s not going to smell funny. It’s not going to look funny. These are microscopic, and so you’re not going to see it. You wouldn’t known it happened."
In China, 100 colony-forming units (CFU) of bacteria per milliliter is the national standard for drinking water. The McDonald's sample was found to contain 120 CFU per milliliter, and the Kungfu sample 900 CFU per milliliter.
Qaurtz pointed out that although the sheer amount of bacteria allegedly found was alarming, CCTV did not mention what kind of bacteria was present in the ice cubes.
Without that information, it's especially doubtful that anyone is likely to investigate the South China Morning Post's assertion that "you're better off drinking from a fast-food chain's toilet than its carbonated drinks."
This is not the first time ice in fast-food chains has come under scrutiny for bacterial content. In 2006, a sixth-grade student tested ice collected from south Florida fast-food restaurants as part of a school science project. Shockingly, she found that "70 percent of the time, ice from ... [the] restaurants was dirtier than toilet water," Good Morning America reported at the time.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.