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Strong Reactions To Contaminated Soda Fountains

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By Peter Granitz

When a limited study found nearly half the soda fountains in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia contained bacteria including E-Coli, public concern was heightened.

But the Commonwealth says it does test the machines. Chris Gordon with Virginia's Health Department says if restaurant owners don't clean their soda fountains properly it may be because they don't know that's the law.

The Commonwealth regulates soda fountains and Gordon says every restaurant is subject to a once a year random inspection.

"Virginia and the Food and Drug Administration have specific requirements in place that we use and adopted in Virginia to be sure that these are being cleaned and sanitized," says Gordon.

Gordon won't say whether Virginia will increase the number of inspections, but the health department has sent the findings to all restaurant owners.

Renee Godard, a professor at Hollins University who worked on the study, says it began with an undergraduate lab experiment in which students were instructed to test for bacteria.

"Don't go look at water, you know, because we know that municipal drinking water is clean because it's regulated," says Godard. "So this kid went to a soda fountain machine and pushed the button for water and collected it and brought it back. Lo and behold, there were bacteria, including coliform bacteria."

Godard admits the study is a small one: it only tested 30 local fast-food restaurants, but she says there's no reason to assume the problem is unique to the Roanoke Valley.

Outside a Z-Burger in Northwest D.C., we asked patrons Derek Hill, James Bono about the findings.

"It does not surprise me, it's just another one of these things this day in age," says one. "I'm kind of the last person that listens to those things--of course there's bacteria here or there," says the other. "There's bacteria everywhere: I've got a dog."

The study did not examine whether the bacteria are causing people to get sick, but Godard says future studies will.

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