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The Ice in Your Favorite Coffee Drink Could Be Making You Sick

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The Ice in Your Favorite Coffee Drink Could Be Making You Sick
Fecal bacteria was found in ice at Starbucks and two other coffee chains in the U.K. Photo Credit: CHAIWATPHOTOS/iStock/GettyImages

This news may cause you to rethink ordering a chilled beverage the next time you’re grabbing a drink to go.

In some rather alarming news, fecal bacteria was found in the ice at Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero in Manchester, United Kingdom, based on lab tests carried out by BBC One’s consumer series “Watchdog.”

Read more: The 12 Worst Coffee Drinks to Order

The bacteria, known as fecal coliforms, are found in the fecal material of humans and other warm-blooded animals. According to Tony Lewis of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, who called the findings “concerning,” the bacteria is the source of human disease and “should not be present at any level.” Who wants some iced coffee now?

Starbucks, Caffe Nero and Costa have all expressed concern over the findings and plan to conduct more thorough inspections. “We have moved quickly to conduct our own investigation into the claims about the stores,” a Starbucks spokesman told The Daily Mail. “All employees nationwide have received updated training on our high standards of hygiene, including ice handling.”

Fecal coliforms also made headlines during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when sewage was discovered in the water. Athletes and tourists were advised not to put their heads under water at the risk becoming “violently ill,” according to U.S. News and World Report. While this latest news is undeniably gross, let's break down how dangerous it actually is.

For one, we have hundreds of different species of coliforms present in us since a coliform is simply a bacteria that lives in the intestines and in the large intestine — the colon, in particular, says Dr. Brad Spellberg, MD, Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

How dangerous the fecal bacteria found in the ice would depend on what type of bacteria it is.

“[Fecal coliforms] are not intrinsically dangerous if they are transferred into someone else’s intestines. It may be gross, but not inherently dangerous per se,” he says.

If you were to swallow any fecal bacteria, nothing would happen, at least at first, as most of it would be killed in the stomach acid, Dr. Spellberg explains. It’s when the bacteria reach the intestines that symptoms could begin to surface. If the bacteria are harmless, you won’t even realize you ingested any. However, if bad bacteria were present, it would become pretty clear.

Some strains of E.coli, for example, are highly pathogenic and can cause intestinal diseases, he says. There’s also Salmonella and Camplyobacter, which can cause diarrheal illnesses, be spread to other people and cause them diarrhea, too.

Then there’s antibiotic-resistant bacteria to consider as well. If this bacteria were to transfer to another person’s intestines, they could develop an infection that’s resistant to antibiotics, such as appendicitis, diverticulitis or a urinary tract infection.

This is obviously scary, and if you’re concerned about the hygiene practices of your local coffee shop, a good rule of thumb is seeing how clean they keep the tabletops and bathrooms. If the general restaurant area seems dirty and unsanitized, you might want to avoid getting an iced beverage — or any beverage, for that matter — in that particular spot!

But for the time being, rest assured that your body is pretty familiar with fecal coliforms.

“We all have ‘fecal’ bacteria in us all the time. In fact, there are more bacteria in our intestines under normal healthy conditions than there are our own cells in our bodies. So fecal bacteria are normal and normally in all of us,” says Dr. Spellberg.

Read more: Meet the Women Who Are Changing Health and Wellness

What Do YOU Think?

What do you make of news like this? Will you only opt for ice at home for the time being, or will you take your chances? Tell us in the comments!

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