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After a restaurant patron in Cincinnati complained last summer that his iced tea smelled like sewage, the city's health department sampled iced tea from several area restaurants. The study revealed high levels of coliform bacteria (from fecal matter), prompting the state of Kentucky to launch a similar survey of its restaurants. That study, too, found contaminated tea in many restaurants. Although no illnesses were reported, both jurisdictions last fall issued advisories to retail food establishments on how to properly prepare brewed iced tea.
"There was a similar situation in Texas back in 1987," says Thomas L. Schwarz, director of the division of cooperative programs in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, "and the problem was the same--the tea dispensers were not being properly cleaned and sanitized."
After the tea leaves are brewed, the hot tea is transferred from the brewer to a reservoir-type unit with a spigot for dispensing the tea. This unit has at its base a short section of tubing that goes from the reservoir to the spigot.
"What was found in 1987 and again recently," Schwarz says, "is that the dispenser is not being cleaned properly. Over time, the tubing and the spigot build up a heavy bacteria-laden residue, accounting for the high bacterial counts in some of the tea samples."
The solution to the problem is simple, Schwarz says. It requires disassembling, cleaning and sanitizing the dispenser, hoses, spigot, and other components. "If they dismantle the dispenser and clean and sanitize it at least once a day, as is recommended by FDA for retail food establishments, they shouldn't have any problems," he says, adding that no extra precautions need to be taken for home-brewed iced tea.
Source: This article was originally published by Marian Segal for the FDA Consumer magazine and appears courtesy of the FDA.