Last week’s revelations on the BBC’s Watchdog programme leave a nasty taste in the mouth. For those not au fait with the faecal matter found in iced drinks served at the country’s leading chain coffee shops – Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffè Nero – here’s a quick summary:
The BBC undercover investigation was carried out by a Leeds Beckett University lecturer and microbiologist, Margarita Gomez Escalada. It found that iced water from each of the coffee chains contained faecal coliform bacteria. Seven of 10 samples from Costa contained the bacteria, as did three samples out of ten for both Starbucks and Caffè Nero. Where tap water is only allowed to contain 10 microorganisms per millilitre, the investigation discovered hundreds per millilitre.
As you’d probably guess yourself, the most likely – but not proven – source of the contamination is unclean hands. The uproar is probably down to a simple case of staff not washing hands thoroughly after going to the lavatory or after carrying out lavatorial cleaning duties. But it’s also possible that the bacteria originated from poorly cleaned ice buckets and tongs.
Any which way you look at it, it comes down to inadequate cleaning regimes. We all know not to touch the free nuts on the counter, but we’d like to think that our coffee comes uncontaminated.
So, how clean is your commercial coffee machine? Does the espresso machine get cleaned as often and as thoroughly as it should? Do the coffee grinder, scoops, hoppers and trays all get washed as frequently as recommended? Do you run regular cleaning cycles? How often are your ice-making machine, buckets and other drinks and food preparation equipment subject to a total clean-out?
Some of the bacteria found in the investigation were, as Gomez Escalada said, bacteria which might not cause a problem to healthy people but which could cause disease in people with reduced immunity.
There’s a simple lesson for all of us here: wash hands, preparation areas and all food and drink equipment more often than you do now, or risk causing harm to vulnerable customers and staff.
We recommend high-visibility hygiene reminder notices for all staff – in toilets, over basins and in kitchens. Review your cleaning schedules; provide antibacterial foam dispensers outside of lavatories as well as antibacterial soap at all sinks; and update your cleaning charts for all areas.
It’s virtually impossible to eradicate all bacteria – because money changes hands, hands touch handles and surfaces almost constantly, and self-service coffee machines are always subject to the personal hygiene of the public. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce the risks of contaminants in your food and drinks machines and equipment.
Keep it clean, folks!