How Safe Is Your Soft Serve? Investigation Finds Worrisome Bacteria at Some Stores

Investigative - Inside Edition Staff

One secret for great-tasting soft ice cream is making sure the equipment is always clean and sanitized, according to Jason Liu, owner of the Soft Swerve ice cream shop in New York City.

“The cleaner the machine is, the better the ice cream actually comes out,” he told Inside Edition as he demonstrated the cleanliness of his appliances. 

But in other places, the equipment may not always be as spotless.

Pictures from a Louisiana McDonald’s show an ice cream drip tray covered with slimy filth.

“I couldn't believe my eyes,” the employee who took the photos told Inside Edition. “I was like, 'I’ve never seen something this disgusting.'” 

The guy who snapped the photos worked at the McDonald’s but says he got canned after posting the photos on social media. 

“I asked my manager. I said, ‘When was the last time y'all cleaned this?’ and she said, ‘Hurry up, bring it to the back before a customer sees it,'” he claimed. 

Inside Edition wanted to know just how sanitary your soft serve ice cream and yogurt is, so we took samples from 40 locations in the Seattle area, from fast food chains to independent shops, and had them tested for bacteria.   

Nine out of 40 samples had elevated levels of coliform, a critical indicator of an unsanitary condition, which by itself does not necessarily cause illness.

“If those coliform counts are there, that's an indication of a sanitary problem and the restaurant owner needs to take some action to fix the problem,” microbiologist and food safety expert Don Schaffner told Inside Edition. 

Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero returned to Trove, a restaurant where we had we ordered an ice cream dessert called Razzmatazz.  It showed a total bacteria count of a whopping 28 million. 

When she asked the manager why there were such high levels of bacteria, he replied: “I have no comment on that right now. I'm not entirely sure.”

He claimed they clean the machine every day. 

She then went to Menchies, a popular self-serve yogurt shop, where tests found elevated levels of coliform. 

“We ordered what's called a Reese's yogurt from you and had it tested and it showed bacteria that could indicate an unsanitary condition,” she told the owner. “Can you explain why that might be?”

“I cannot," the owner said. "I would have to investigate." 

The owner was so concerned, he invited her inside to show that his machines are cleaned and sanitized regularly. He also said his shop always gets high marks from the local health department. 

“Every machine is labeled, so this machine gets completely assembled and cleaned on Mondays and Thursdays and this machine on Mondays and Fridays,” he said. 

At many shops it was good news. At 31 places, including White Cap Frozen Yogurt just outside Seattle, the ice cream and yogurt were sanitary.  

Regarding that dirty tray, McDonald’s says it is committed to providing customers high-quality food, service and a clean environment. It says the tray is designed to collect leaks and does not come into contact with the ice cream, adding that it is required to be cleaned regularly. The company also points out that the restaurant has a history of passing health inspections.

So keep enjoying those treats but you may want to ask how often the machines are cleaned.