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Airplane coffee and tea may not be safe to drink?

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You should probably think twice (or thrice) before accepting coffee or tea on your next flight. According to a new airline food study from the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, it's best to avoid drinking the water airlines use in flight. The results of this study, released in November, shouldn't be too surprising given that, in 2004, an EPA investigation found disease-causing pathogens could be in the water of 15 percent of commercial planes.

So far, there have been no public reports of passengers getting sick from drinking in-flight coffeeor tea — typically made from the same airplane tap water you avoid brushing your teeth with. However, planes will make emergency landings in instances of foodborne illnesses. (In 2011, American Airlines was sued by a family who alleged one of their family members died as a result of eating contaminated chicken served on a flight.)

Airline beverages, it appears, can also be contaminated. Dr. Karen Joubert, PT, DPT spoke at a wellness summit in November where she cautioned against drinking the hot drinks offered on planes. She told TODAY Food that "it will not only increase dehydration but it is most likely loaded with bacteria." Joubert, whose celebrity clients include Jennifer Aniston and Serena Williams, is sticking to bottled water until industry standards improve.

Currently, the Airline Drinking Water Rule, jointly regulated by the EPA, FDA and FAA, only requires disinfection and flushing one to four times per year, depending on the number of coliform samples taken per monitoring period. The ADWR was introduced in 2009 and has never been updated.

In essence, the water you drink is only as clean as the hoses and tanks used to transport and store it.

"You would think they'd be emptied and cleaned at least once a day," wrote Dr. Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH, executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, in a 2018-19 airline food study. "But this is not so. So water is just sitting for long periods of time in what appear to be not-so-clean tanks." Platkin's study included a questionnaire about water sanitation practices sent to the following airlines: Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, American Airlines, United, Frontier, Delta, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines, Allegiant Air, Spirit Airlines and Southwest. While some of the airlines declined to respond, several did.


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