When you go to a restaurant, every meal is accompanied by a glass of water. And while most places in the United States offer safe tap water, that does not mean what you are consuming is bacteria-free or safe. In fact, a simple glass of water can harbor more germs than a toilet seat. Gross!
Here are four factors to be wary about with a glass of water:
1. The ice
Most people prefer ice water but that could be a dirty (pun intended) habit. Consider this: Last year, the Daily Mail ran its own survey to find that most restaurant ice machines had higher levels of bacteria than water samples taken from toilet bowls at the same location.
A few years back, NBC ran a Dateline report on the perils of not handling ice safely. Dateline observed that many restaurant employees used their bare hands to retrieve ice — an act that is frowned upon in terms of food safety and a health code violation. And if you think a self-serve soda machine is a safe source for ice, think again! Employees typically have to manually refill the machines with ice, which means their hands (translation: their germs) will be all over the ice you consume.
2. The lemon
Recall that complimentary lemon that establishments place in your water? That may be a breeding ground of germs. According to a study earlier this year, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, 70 percent of the lemon wedges tested positive for microbial growth.
3. The glass
Two years ago, ABC News Consumer Correspondent Elisabeth Leamy went undercover at ten restaurants in three U.S. states to find out which parts of a restaurants had the most germs. One of the ten most germ-infested parts of a restaurant are the glasses, as staff touch the rims while getting them. While the proper way of retrieving a glass is to hold it by its base (or body), there’s no way to guarantee your staff is actually doing that.
4. The water: Most tap water sources are clean, but if you have any doubts, then cross reference your geographic location with local drinking water information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After all, despite having one of the safest water supplies in the world, chemical spills and other disasters can leave water sources contaminated.
“The EPA regulates our drinking supply, and there can be some bacteria, but one of the things that is not allowed is coliform bacteria,” said Renee D. Godard, professor of biology at Hollins University and a co-author of the paper to ABC News. “We can’t have that in our drinking supply. But they’re coming out of these soda fountain machines.”