Undercover teams from the BBC’s Watchdog Live visited 10 branches each of Harvester, Hungry Horse, JD Wetherspoon, Slug and Lettuce and Marstons’ Two For One brand in October, making 50 visits overall.
Faecal coliforms – bacteria usually found in the gut and associated with faeces – were present in samples of either ice or soda at all the pub chains, alongside 'very high' levels of other bacteria.
It comes nearly 18 months after a Watchdog investigation found traces of faecal matter in ice at several UK high street coffee brands.
Tony Lewis, of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, says that coliforms are likely to originate from human contact, such as dirty hands. The other bacteria found can have a number of origins, including growth in storage and dispensing systems.
He says: “If [ice is] loaded up with the wrong type of bacteria then it can make us ill. So that’s why this is a concern. On the basis of the chains that we’ve looked at, the industry needs to do better, making sure that their cleanliness is being well managed.”
Pub groups respond
All the pub chains say they have taken on board the findings of the report.
Harvester (Mitchells and Butlers) says: “The restaurants surveyed are all of a high standard as assessed by external inspectors and we want to reassure our guests they should have no concerns about any health risks related to the matters referred to in this programme.”
Slug and Lettuce says: “We immediately investigated the claims made by Watchdog, commissioned audits, and reiterated our processes to all sites. We would like to reassure our customers of the strict procedures and high standards expected in our bars.”
Two for One says: "We are obviously disappointed and surprised at the results Watchdog found. As an immediate result of this, all of these pubs are being re-audited.”
JD Wetherspoon says: “We take on board the findings of the report. Food safety is of paramount importance within our pubs.
“We have strict standard operating policies in relation to our ice machine cleanliness and more generally, ice handling. Dispense equipment used for our soda also follows these policies and this includes sanitising the nozzles on a daily basis.”
The full investigation aired on Watchdog Live on 21 November on BBC One.