An investigative TV series from BBC found “significant” traces of fecal bacteria in England’s favorite coffee shops: Starbucks, Costa, and Cafe Nero.

Image credits: poolie / Starbucks.

I’m not much of a TV person myself, having willingly renounced a house set years ago, but Watchdog is definitely a series I recommend watching. It investigates problematic experiences with traders, retailers, and other companies, highlighting unfair or abusive behaviors. It was surprisingly efficient in forcing companies to change such behaviors, and even pushed the introduction of law changes. In an as-of-yet-unaired episode, they analyzed iced drinks from Costa Coffee, Starbucks, and Caffe Nero, finding that they contain varying levels of bacteria.

“These should not be present at any level – never mind the significant numbers found,” said Tony Lewis, Head of Policy and Education at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Mister Lewis said these kinds of bacteria were “opportunistic pathogens – the source of human disease.”

The team also analyzed the cleanliness of trays, tables, and chairs, but the bacteria in the ice was by far the most concerning issue. Ten samples were taken from each of the three chains. Costa fared the worst, with 7 out of 10 samples containing the fecal bacteria. Starbucks and Cafe Nero each tested positive for 3 out of 10 samples.

It’s not the first time worrying bacteria has been found in ice from bars and restaurants. Time after time, pathogens have been found in ice cubes, with no clear solution in sight. It’s also not clear exactly what health hazard these pathogens pose.

The chains said that they have taken note of these findings, and are taking action. Starbucks said it is conducting its own investigation into the matter, as did Cafe Nero. Costa said it’s updating its ice-handling guidelines and was in the process of introducing new ice equipment storage. While the program only analyzed English coffee, there’s a good chance similar things are happening in other parts of the world as well.

The Watchdog programme will air on BBC One on Wednesday at 20:00.

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