Catering equipment supplier Hubbard Systems has raised questions over a BBC report that suggests faecal bacteria detected in ice cubes from a branch of KFC came from water that made the ice.
The bacteria was discovered on ice that was served to an undercover researcher at a KFC store in Birmingham, according to the report published last week.
Dr Margarita Gomez Escalada from Leeds Beckett University, who studied the sample, said: “The presence of faecal coliform suggests that there’s faecal contamination either on the water that made the ice, or the ice itself, and so it increases the risk of getting sick from consuming this ice.”
However, the view that the bacteria could have come from the water used in the icemaker has been questioned by the experts at Hubbard Systems, the company that markets Scotsman ice machines in the UK.
“The water in the icemaker will have passed through a filter system that will help to prevent any bacteria present from getting into the machine,” said Mark Stebbings, technical and aftercare manager at Hubbard Systems. “The bacteria that was found is most probably the result of poor personal hygiene standards, presumably on the part of a member of staff.”
Stebbings said that the solution was straight-forward: “Clean the machine, clean yourself, and don’t pick up ice with your hands – use a scoop. Ice is a food so staff should always wash their hands before and during service. As for the machine, follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. They shouldn’t be complicated.”
Meanwhile, for any operator who is concerned about a potential problem with their ice machine, Stebbings claims that simple test kits, such as the 3M Clean ‘n Trace kit, are effective. “The operator just swabs the area – in this case the inside of the storage bin – then pops the swab into a solution that will change colour to show if there is an issue with bacteria,” he said.
In the BBC’s investigation, undercover researchers visited a branch of Costa in Loughborough, the Chicken Cottage in Hampstead, a Café Nero in Bath and the Wimpy in Basildon, as well as the KFC at Martineau Place in Birmingham as part of its ‘Rip Off Britain’ series.
At each location, researchers asked for a cup of tap water with ice, “as this can be an good indicator of standards behind the scenes”.
Most of the samples that were taken turned up “low and harmless levels of bacteria” when tested, except for the KFC sample, which found “high levels of bacteria in the ice”.
Dr Escalada said: “It’s really hard to say how the faecal bacteria got to the ice that we tested. The thing I think is most likely is that it got there through manipulation. So someone touched the ice and their hands weren’t particularly clean.”
KFC told the BBC it was extremely disappointed and said it had launched an investigation.