Please Don’t Ever Get Ice In Your Drink On An Airplane

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You Might Want To Re-Think Your Airplane Drinkredonion1515 / iStock / Getty Images Plus - Getty Images

Next to arriving at my destination, the only other exciting part of flying is seeing the food and beverage cart roll through the cabin. Who doesn't like love Biscoff Cookies? Maybe you tend to order iced water, ginger ale, hot tea, or even a gin & tonic. But you might want to think twice about ordering drinks with ice.

Ice on airplanes isn't always as clean as what you'd expect from a restaurant on land. According to Katie Heil, Seller/Server Learning Experience Design Manager at Certus, when it comes to an airplane's water and ice supply, there are two main sources of contamination: those that handle water and ice and the surfaces that the refreshments come into contact with.

This leads us to a plane's water tank, which Heil says is the most important food-contact surface to think about. It's the source of water in bathroom sinks, and may also be used for making coffee, tea, or even ice. Ice could also be delivered to the airplane by a third-party vendor, according to Heil, but it could still be contaminated during storage or service.

In 2004, the EPA randomly tested the water supply on 158 planes. Twenty tested positive for total coliform bacteria and/or E.coli—both indicators that other disease-causing pathogens could be present. As a result, the EPA created the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, which requires routine disinfection. In 2015, a separate study on aircraft water showed that the water supply tanks are "conducive for microbial growth." Heil says it's difficult to say whether this rule has improved water, but she cited a study that shows violations have decreased.

Despite the alarming studies, Heil couldn't find any records of foodborne disease outbreaks resulting from a plane's water or ice. "While the water and ice may have some contamination, most healthy adults have strong enough immune systems to ingest them without consequences," she said.

To mitigate risks, Heil recommends buying a water bottle at the airport. And if you think your vodka soda will kill off any bacteria sitting on ice, think again. "While alcohol has some antiseptic properties, I’m not sure that I’d bet on it killing all the pathogens in contaminated ice," said Heil. "Ethyl alcohol needs a certain concentration for disinfection, and many alcoholic beverages may not be sufficiently concentrated."

What will you be ordering on your next flight?

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