You don’t always get the best food and drink options while flying. What can you expect when you’re 30,000 feet above ground? If you’re lucky, you’ll get a bag of pretzels or cookies—and a beverage. But whatever you do, be sure to order your drink without ice. Why? Studies have shown that containers full of ice in airplane beverage carts—including hotels, restaurants, and fast food joints—can be loaded with bacteria. Here are more reasons you want to skip the ice and play it safe on your next trip.
60 samples of ice cubes taken from a variety of ice makers—domestic and industrial—were shown to contain 52 different strains of bacteria, most of them considered pathogens, according to a 2017 study in the Annals of Microbiology. The good news? Whiskey, vodka, martinis, peach tea, tonic water, and soda are reportedly adept at reducing or eliminating those nasty bugs. Just be sure to stick to one alcoholic drink and minimize your consumption of sugary drinks.
Planes Aren’t Required to be Cleaned
You’d think that planes would have to adhere to a rigorous disinfecting schedule since they host a large, rotating population of travelers with a percentage who may be sick. However, there aren’t any governmental regulations that mandate regular cleaning from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nor the Food and Drug Administration.
Germs Hide on Tray Tables and Seat Pockets
In the course of a flight, the attendants, who are serving you food and drinks—and ice—come in contact with multiple surfaces, all of which can have harmful bacteria. Tray tables rarely get wiped down and 2007 study found that 60 percent of tray tables tested positive for the superbug MRSA. Seat pockets can also be loaded with MRSA, a 2014 study from the American Society of Microbiology found. The germs can survive for 168 hours in the magazine holder.
Ice Trays Are Rarely Disinfected
Along with the interior of a plane doesn’t get a good wipe-down very often, the ice tray itself will hardly ever see a deep disinfecting cleanup. Multiple flight attendant’s hands will scoop the ice holder over the course of a flight, but it’s not getting cleaned out at the end of the day’s trips.
The Water May Be Filthy
Even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blew the whistle on airlines to pump water free of fecal bacteria in October 2011, research in 2018 found that the water inside tanks on airplanes—which are sometimes used to make the ice—were loaded with bacteria. Reports from the EPA in 2012 also revealed that 12 percent of tap water on planes had positive tests for the fecal bacteria coliform.
Ice Can Give You the Runs
Some people might think that since ice is cold, bacteria can’t survive for long in a cold environment, but some bugs can stay alive in harsh negative-zero conditions. A 2015 study in the Internal Journal of Food Microbiology suggests that ice has loads bacteria that causes diarrhea.