China Central Television reports that Beijing franchises of McDonald's, KFC and Shanghai-based fast-food restaurant Kungfu used ice that was found to contain up to 19 times the amount of bacteria than the acceptable limit for drinking water.
The amount of bacteria in ice cubes used for carbonated beverages at one KFC location was reportedly found to be 13 times higher than in toilet water in a lab test. The South China Morning Post reported that ice from a Beijing McDonald's "tested cleaner than toilet water, but still did not meet national hygiene standards."
According to The Wall Street Journal, KFC issued a public apology following the CCTV report, which aired Saturday. McDonald's and Kungfu announced investigations into the matter.
Experts told CCTV that dirty ice machines, poor awareness of food safety and sub-par sterilization routines contributed to the high amounts of bacteria in the ice.
Ding Ke, an associate professor of food science at Beijing University, said that these levels of bacteria could lead to dangerous diseases such as dysentery in people who consume contaminated ice, according to Shanghai Daily.
The story went viral on Sina Weibo after airing on CCTV, the predominant state television broadcaster in mainland China. A Huffington Post translation of the Sina Weibo post confirmed details about the levels of bacteria found in beverage ice.
In China, 100 colony-forming units (CFU) of bacteria per milliliter is the national standard for drinking water. The McDonald's sample was found to contain 120 CFU per milliliter, and the Kungfu sample 900 CFU per milliliter.
Qaurtz pointed out that although the sheer amount of bacteria allegedly found was alarming, CCTV did not mention what kind of bacteria was present in the ice cubes.
Without that information, it's especially doubtful that anyone is likely to investigate the South China Morning Post's assertion that "you're better off drinking from a fast-food chain's toilet than its carbonated drinks."
This is not the first time ice in fast-food chains has come under scrutiny for bacterial content. In 2006, a sixth-grade student tested ice collected from south Florida fast-food restaurants as part of a school science project. Shockingly, she found that "70 percent of the time, ice from ... [the] restaurants was dirtier than toilet water," Good Morning America reported at the time.