The water tanks on planes may be subject to shoddy maintenance, which could lead to potentially harmful bacteria in the coffee and tea offered during the in-flight drinks service.

That's according to a new survey from Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center that polled 11 airlines — including JetBlue and Delta — about the nutritional value of their in-flight snacks, as well as maintenance procedures surrounding the water tanks.

Charles Platkin, a professor of nutrition and the executive director of the Food Policy Center, told The New York Post: “Planes come in, [and the tanks are] not being emptied and cleaned, because there is no time for that.

"The water tank is being filled on top [after] each usage. Whatever would be on the bottom stays there and sits there.”

The standards surrounding drinking water on US-based airlines stem from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's aircraft drinking water rule.

It relies on self-reporting by the industry and only requires that water tanks be cleaned four times per year.

Professor Platkin said: “[The rule] was instituted because there were issues with coliform, which is a broad class of bacteria.

"I don’t want to freak anybody out, but it’s faeces. [In 2004,] the EPA did a test of airlines and found 15 per cent of the aircrafts tested positive for coliform.”

Airlines such as Delta and United reported that they used a high-tech ozone disinfection process at least quarterly to clean their tanks.

In a response to the study, a spokesman for an airline trade group told the LA Times that “rigorous sampling and management requirements” are routinely met.

Professor Platkin, however, says that the self-reported nature of the current required cleanings “sends up a red flag.”

Due to the high stakes of air travel, namely the immediate safety of passengers and pressure on crews to have quick turnarounds on the tarmac, Professor Platkin worries that water hygiene is taking a back seat.

He said: “They barely clean the planes in my opinion. I’m sure something that’s hidden like the water is something that’s not a huge priority.”

Those who fear E. coli and other pathogens might want to steer clear of the hot drinks on board, and consider bringing their own disinfects for use after a trip to the toilets rather than washing with the tap water.

Unless specifically noted, the water in those sinks must be potable. But because of his survey, Professor Platkin says that “it’s good to bring hand sanitiser just to be on the safe side, until this is all sorted out and we look into it a little deeper.”

This article was originally published by New York Post and was reproduced with permission.

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