Ice and soft drinks served at several popular pub chains were contaminated with faecal bacteria, a recent BBC investigation found.
Undercover reporters for Watchdog on BBC1 found bacteria in samples taken at Harvester, Hungry Horse, JD Wetherspoon, Slug and Lettuce, and Marston’s Two For One last month.
Watchdog Live visited 10 branches of each of the five chains, with faecal coliforms found in four of the pubs visited. They were found in ice at two branches of JD Wetherspoon, one branch of Two for One and one branch of Hungry Horse.
Bacteria was shockingly “too high to count” in the ice and soda water of Hungry Horse, Slug & Lettuce, Harvester, and Two For One.
Among those bacteria, coliforms, including faecal coliforms – bacteria usually found in the gut and associated with faeces – were present in samples of either ice or soda at all of the chains visited.
Tony Lewis of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, who analysed Watchdog Live’s findings, suggests in the programme that bacteria in such high concentrations, and the presence of coliforms, could indicate failings in cleaning standards – and may even represent a potential risk to health, particularly for people with a weakened immune system.
The programme visited 10 branches each of Harvester, Hungry Horse, JD Wetherspoon, Slug and Lettuce and Marstons’ Two For One chains in October, making 50 visits overall.
Watchdog Live host Nikki Fox said: “These results are really disappointing. I don’t think most people would expect this type of bacteria to be present in things we’re actually consuming – and certainly not in some of the biggest names in the business. What we’ve found suggests that the procedures all these chains have in place aren’t always being followed at a local level.”
A spokesperson for Slug & Lettuce said: “Slug & Lettuce takes hygiene standards extremely seriously having excellent average 4.9/5 star EHO food hygiene ratings across all sites tested. We immediately investigated the claims made by Watchdog, commissioned audits, and reiterated our processes to all sites. We would like to reassure our customers of the strict procedures and high standards expected in our bars.”
A spokesperson for JD Wetherspoon said: “We take on board the findings of the report. Food safety is of paramount importance within our pubs. Our Food Hygiene Rating Scheme Scores (FHRS) clearly demonstrates this, with 804 of our pubs (around 90 per cent) eligible for the scheme (as it excludes Scotland and the Republic of Ireland) scoring an average 4.97 out of 5, and more than 97 per cent scoring a perfect 5.
“We have strict standard operating policies in relation to our ice machine cleanliness and more generally, ice handling. Dispense equipment used for our soda also follows these policies and this includes sanitising the nozzles on a daily basis.
“We use a bespoke ice-handling system for transferring our ice – this is a colour coded system of scoops and totes for transferring ice from the ice manufacturing machine to the customer glass. It is designed to avoid any contact between our employee’s hands and the ice and operate in a hygienic manner.”
Harvester (Mitchells and Butlers) said: “The cleanliness and hygiene of our restaurants is of critical importance, as is the welfare of our guests and staff. The restaurants surveyed are all of a high standard as assessed by external inspectors and we want to reassure our guests they should have no concerns about any health risks related to the matters referred to in this programme.”