An introductory environmental biology class recently determined that the new ice machine in Triton’s Pub had levels of fecal bacteria that are above the healthy threshold issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Professor of Environmental Science and Biology Beth Forys repeated the experiment to ensure that her results were accurate, but she came back with similar numbers. She then contacted Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students James Annarelli, who shared the results with Bon Appetit General Manager Sam Shepherd.
“Bon Appetit was very fast,” Forys said. “I was very impressed. And they didn’t deny it.”
According to Shepherd, the ice machine in the Pub was immediately discontinued and a third party (Advanced Environmental Lab, Inc.) was brought in on Feb. 22 to do additional testing to find the source of the bacteria. Samples were taken from the ice machine in the Pub and four other sites within the Pub.
“We take this very seriously as a daily part of our operation being food safety,” Shepherd said.
Forys runs routine experiments to test the levels of bacteria in different areas around campus each semester for one of her labs. This spring, the class sampled from various retention ponds on campus, off of the sea wall at Galbraith and from the Pub machine’s ice.
“All of the samples came back with no fecal bacteria and maybe one colony of heterotrophic bacteria in a couple, which is totally fine,” Forys said. “Except for the ice maker which came with about 150 colonies of fecal bacteria.”
The EPA monitors the levels of bacteria in our drinking and swimming water. For drinking water, limited levels of heterotrophic bacteria are acceptable. However, absolutely no colonies of fecal bacteria are allowed.
First-year Sarah Shafer expressed concern about the level of sanitation in the eating areas on campus after finding out about the situation.
“I mean, it definitely makes me uncomfortable,” Shafer said. “It’s kind of gross.”
According to Forys, this is fairly common even in restaurants.
“It is a problem not just at Eckerd,” Forys said. “So it’s not that unusual, you don’t clean out the ice maker on a daily basis.”
Forys reiterates that she is not a professional microbiologist, and she has not officially identified the species of bacteria. However, she uses protocols simplified from the government levels.
“It is interesting. The plates appeared to have many colonies of the same species on them,” Forys said.
On Mar. 5, results from Advanced Environmental Lab, Inc. were received stating that the samples tested negative for Escherichia coli, or E. coli. Shepherd has since shared the results with Annarelli and Forys, as well as Assistant Vice President of Operations Adam Colby, Associate Dean for Student Life Anne Wetmore and President Donald Eastman.
As to other areas around campus, Forys’ class found the water off the seawall by Galbraith had moderate but acceptable levels of bacteria. There is also a fair amount of bacteria in the retention pods, which is acceptable as long as students do not swim in them.
Though the fecal matter in the Pub’s ice machine might’ve been ultimately harmless, Forys warns that routine checks are necessary to keep Eckerd healthy and safe for its community.
“There is a very good chance that it was something totally innocent,” Forys said. “But it is good to be on top of things.”
According to Shepherd, the next step is to figure out how they are getting mixed results.
“It’s not over yet, we still need to find out what’s going on and how we can tighten up the facilities that we do have,” Shepherd said.
Forys and her introductory environmental biology classes hope to keep testing the waters on campus to keep everything in check for years to come.