TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — If you want to get some water with your burger, you might want to opt for a bottle, according to a study from Loma Linda University, located in Loma Linda, California.
Researchers with LLU conducted a study to find any signs of microbial contamination in common drinking water sources in the Eastern Coachella Valley, which would include soda fountains at your typical fast food restaurants.
“The presence of pathogenic microorganisms in drinking water is a serious public health concern and cannot be overemphasized,” the researchers said in their article, “Microbial contamination analysis of drinking water from bulk dispensers and fast-food restaurants in the Eastern Coachella Valley, California.”
The article was published in the August issue of Water Supply, a peer-reviewed journal by the International Water Association.
The study found that 41% of the water samples taken from the soda fountains had total coliforms, which are bacteria that are found in soil or water that have been intact with surface water or fecal matter.
After looking at the molecular structure of the water samples, the researchers found genetic material typically found in Salmonella, E. coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, another type of disease-causing bacteria.
Over 72 samples were analyzed from soda fountains, water vending machines, and tap water.
The researchers said they found biofilms in the contaminated samples. Biofilms are groups of microorganisms existing in a slimy combined state.
According to Loma Linda University, these biofilms, which can cause serious issues in health settings, exceeded the EPA’s maximum permissible levels in several samples.
The researchers said the biofilm formed over time through the plastic piping that carries water through soda fountains and water vending machines. When these machines are not properly maintained, the filtration systems fail to keep pathogens from contaminating the water.
“The study collected water samples from an underserved area, where there generally aren’t routine checks of water quality and lack of maintenance for soda fountains or water vending machines,” said Dr. Ryan Sinclair, the study’s last author and an associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Health and School of Medicine.
Sinclair said the results of the study showed the importance of creating regulatory policies that ensure that fast-food soda fountains and water dispenders are properly cleaned. This includes regularly cleaning and flushing dispenders and using antimicrobial tubes inside the machines.
After this study, the researchers now plan to determine whether the level of bacteria they’ve found poses a significant health hazard or is contributing to existing health problems.