Not to Gross You Out, but There Might Be Fecal Matter in Your Coffee

Does that mean you need to give up your cold brew obsession?

weedezign/ShutterstockThere’s nothing more refreshing than iced coffee when you need a caffeine fix in the summer, but recent news might have you thinking twice before ordering your next cold brew. A BBC Watchdog investigation found something gross in the ice of U.K. coffee chains, including Starbucks.

BBC small samples of ice from Starbucks, Costa, and Caffe Nero in the United Kingdom. Three out of ten samples from both Starbucks and Costa and a whopping seven out of ten at Caffe Nero contained fecal coliforms. That’s right: bacteria from poop.

The idea of little poo pieces swimming in your coffee just plain gross, but don’t give up iced coffee just yet. The group of bacteria called “fecal coliform” can indeed be found in poop, but you can also find them in fruits and veggies, food safety specialist Ben Chapman tells Live Science.

Fecal coliform is an indicator that there could be disease-causing organisms in the water. “The level of contamination of fecal bacteria [in the coffee shops’ ice] concerns me a great deal,” says Tony Lewis, spokesperson for The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, according to The Telegraph. “The bacteria found are opportunistic pathogens—the source of human disease.”

Sounds scary, but the mere presence of fecal bacteria isn’t a sure sign you’ll get sick. Even most strains of E. coli—a specific of fecal coliform health experts say is a better indicator of pathogens than the group as a whole—are totally harmless, according to the EPA. The BBC didn’t specify which bacteria it found, so it’s unclear whether any could actually make customers sick.

In light of the gross-out reports, all three chains have taken action. Starbucks and Caffe Nero are doing their own investigations, and Costa is updating its employee guidelines for handling ice and will bring in new ice storage equipment, according to BBC.

If you don’t trust your local coffee shop with a cold brew anymore, use this iced coffee hack to make your own at home—without watering it down.

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.