What's in the ice that you put in your cup of soda? Sometimes bacteria and sometimes mold. That's not a pleasant thought, but our tests found bacteria in several cups of ice from fast food restaurants and convenience stores in the St. Louis area and a level of bacteria well over the health department's acceptable level for one. Contrary to popular believe, ice doesn't kill bacteria, it just leaves it in something like a state of suspended animation. If there's bacteria in the ice that goes into your drink, as the ice melts, the bacteria comes to life. We also found mold, just like the mold that grows on old cheese or bread, in some of the ice we bought. It usually won't make you sick, but it's a sign that the restaurant or convenience store hasn't cleaned their ice machine recently. It takes mold 7 days to grow to detectable levels.
If the ice in your cup hasn't made you sick in the past, you might not worry about it in the future. But, if the results of our test gross you out, here are some tips from the health department.
1) If the drink is cold when it comes out of the dispenser, skip the ice.
2) Choose a bottled drink.
Remember, if you walk into a convenience store or fast food restaurant and it looks dirty, then it's probably dirty behind the scenes where the ice is made. And, the health department has found that ice machines that make and dispense, all-in-one, are usually cleaner because they're self cleaning.