Tampa, Florida - Of all the projects at the Hillsborough County Regional Science Fair, one project in the microbiology category is getting international attention.
A seventh-grade student from Benito Middle School in Tampa checked five fast food restaurants near the University of South Florida and found there was more bacteria in the restaurants' ice, than there was in the same restaurants' toilet water.
Jasmine Roberts, 7th-Grade Student: "When I get ice, sometimes I order ice just to chew on it, and now I know I'm not going to do that anymore just because of the amount of bacteria I found."
Dr. Daniel Lim is a microbiology professor at USF and a mentor to Jasmine Roberts. Dr. Lim says as a scientist, he wasn't surprised the toilet water had less bacteria than the ice.
Dr. Daniel Lim, USF Microbiology Professor:
"And simply the act of flushing may cleanse the toilet of any residual bacteria, most residual bacteria."
But Dr. Lim says ice inside an ice machine could be there awhile.
Dr. Daniel Lim:
"If you don't clean the receptacle, the materials routinely, there may be a possibility of bio-film or residual material remaining in that receptacle."
Jim Griffith, the President of Suncoast Ice Machines, sells leases and services ice machines. He also wonders about the cleanliness of the ice dispensers the student sampled.
Jim Griffith, Suncoast Ice Machines: "How old was that ice and where had it been all the time. Was it manual-fill or was it dispensed out."
But Griffith says most restaurants keep ice machines clean because they don't want to deal with problems, if they don't.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation checks ice machines during restaurant inspections twice a year.
A spokesperson says there's no way to tell how many ice machines do not pass inspection, but from talking with inspectors she says it does not appear to be a problem.
New Tampa 7th grader Jasmine Roberts received first place in a regional science fair for her project. 12-year-old Jasmine compared ice, to toilet water at fast food restaurants, and in most cases, the toilet water was cleaner. Jasmine won $800 for her project. Click here to see the original story
Dave Balut, Tampa Bay's 10 News