An undercover team collected samples at five of the UK’s best-known pub brands' branches across the country, and found bacteria levels were “too high to count” at all five.
Among those bacteria, coliforms, including faecal coliforms – bacteria usually found in the gut and associated with faeces – were present in samples of either ice or soda at all of the chains visited.
The investigation by the BBC’s Watchdog Live programme sent investigators to 10 branches each of JD Wetherspoon, Harvester, Slug and Lettuce, Hungry Horse and Marstons’ Two for One, making 50 visits in total.
Tony Lewis, of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, who analysed the findings, suggested bacteria in such high concentrations, and the presence of coliforms, could indicate failings in cleaning standards – and may even represent a potential risk to health, particularly for people with weakened immune systems.
Watchdog Live presenter Nikki Fox said: “These results are really disappointing. I don’t think most people would expect this type of bacteria to be present in things we’re actually consuming – and certainly not in some of the biggest names in the business. What we’ve found suggests that the procedures all these chains have in place aren’t always being followed at a local level.”
Mr Lewis said coliforms and faecal coliforms are likely to have come from human contact such as dirty hands. The other bacteria found can come from a number of sources, including growth in storage and dispensing systems.
He said: “Ice is like any other food. We consume it, we ingest it, it goes into our stomachs, into our guts, and if it’s loaded up with the wrong type of bacteria then it can make us ill. So that’s why this is a concern.
“On the basis of the chains that we’ve looked at, the industry needs to do better, making sure that their cleanliness is being well managed.”
The findings come almost 18 months after Watchdog Live found traces of faecal bacteria present in the ice at high street coffee shops including Starbucks, Caffé Nero and Costa.
All of the chains have responded to the investigation’s findings.
Marstons’ Two for One said it was “disappointed and surprised at the results”, and added an immediate audit, refresher training for staff and internal tests would be done in response.
Hungry Horse also said it had begun an internal investigation and had deep-cleaned all ice and soda equipment.
Slug and Lettuce said it was re-investigating the claims made by the programme, had commissioned audits and “reiterated our processes to all sites”.
JD Wetherspoon said the company would “take on board the findings of the report”.
Harvester said cleanliness and hygiene was of “critical importance” at their restaurants.
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