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(Toledo News Now) -
Food borne illness outbreaks are reaching record levels in the United States. Last year, the CDC said 48 million people got sick from eating or drinking contaminated foods and beverages. Supervisor of the Lucas County Health department Jerry Bingham says ice is food and should be handled carefully.But just how safe is your ice?
Different types of bacteria found in improperly stored ice can potentially make the average person sick and sometimes even be deadly. Experts linked one illness to coolers containing ice and drinking water at a golf course to the death of an Arizona teenager in 2002. The golf course settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the boy's family for $3 million.
So in this WTOL 11 hidden camera investigation, Jenna Lee went to five different places in Toledo and put the ice they served under the microscope. And what she found was downright dirty.
Three restaurants, a fast food joint and a convenience store were all selected at random: Spaghetti Warehouse, Madison Bistro, El Nuevo, Circle K on Holland Sylvania Road and McDonald's on West Alexis Road. Upon arrival, ice was ordered and then collected in a sanitized glass jar, as recommended by a local lab and tested.
The results? Plates of bacteria and coliform. Coliform bacteria are organisms that are present in the environment and in the feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans: [Read what the Ohio Department of Health says about coliform here.] Spaghetti Warehouse, Madison Bistro and El Nuevo had results made up bacteria and coliform. Circle K and McDonald's came back with high levels of bacteria.
All five locations were called for a response.
Spaghetti Warehouse declined to comment.
The Madison Bistro restaurant declined to comment.
No call was answered at The El Nuevo Mexican restaurant.
Numerous calls were made to the corporate office of Circle K, but calls and messages were left unanswered.
McDonald's sent the following statement:
"The safety of our customers is our top priority at every McDonald's restaurant. We have robust procedures in place to ensure high food safety standards and are looking into this report. We will continue to make every effort to ensure our customers receive high-quality, great-tasting food and beverages at an exceptional value in clean and welcoming restaurants." – John Santonastasso, Director of Operations.
"I wouldn't say it's shocking news," said county health supervisor Bingham, "but unfortunate."
Manager Jeff Meier of local ice supplier Luc Ice said wasn't surprised. "We ensure our ice is clean and clear, whereas restaurants you don't get that. Health code inspections for restaurants, it's more of a visual inspection."
While five sites were tested, other restaurants and convenience stores in the Toledo area may also have dirty ice. Mold, mildew and black deposits can be seen in ice machines regularly, according to the health department. In the last month, 25 locations were all instructed by the Lucas County Health department to clean their ice machines following a standard inspection.
And in just the last year, 91 foodborne illness outbreaks were reported in Ohio. The fact is: dozens and dozens of people in Ohio are getting sick from the food they eat every year. Can it be prevented? Possibly. If more people know what can get them sick, maybe fewer people would end up in the hospital.
"We deal with possible food borne outbreaks every week. I would say (it) is probably the least looked at or considered, but it's always a possibility."