Your ice machine and your water supply do not work the same way. Many people think that ice machines clean themselves like tap water stays clean – this is not the case. The same efforts you take to keep food safe should be applied to keep your ice clean as well.
In fact, the FDA defines ice as food and has specific health codes to regulate the quality of ice served in restaurants, bars, and hotels.
Although it’s rare for contaminants to grow and thrive on ice, research shows that some bacteria and viruses can withstand freezing temperatures. It’s important for business owners to make sure they keep their ice clean and free of harmful contaminants.
How Ice Becomes Contaminated
Ice contamination can happen in a few ways. Contaminants can enter your ice supply through airborne particles or dirty water supply, but the main cause is human error.
Improper ice handling is the number one cause of a contaminated ice supply. It’s important to teach your staff the proper way to handle ice to keep your ice clean for your customers and guests. Ice that has been contaminated can cause a foodborne illness, which can hurt your business and your customers.
There are many ways to keep your ice clean. Routine light cleaning by your staff is your first line of defense. Training your staff in proper ice handling techniques is your next step. Finally, hiring a reputable ice machine technician to perform deep cleanings and regular preventive maintenance.
If you want to keep your ice clean, we have developed a guide that will keep your customers safe and happy:
Make Sure Staff Uses Proper Handling Techniques to Keep Ice Clean
- Staff must always wash their hands before grabbing ice from the machine.
- The only part of the ice scoop staff should touch is the handle. Do not touch the shovel end.
- Don’t use glassware to retrieve ice from the machine. Never grab ice with hands.
- Unused ice should be discarded. Never return it to the ice machine to serve later.
- The bin door should stay closed except when removing ice.
- Store ice scoops outside of the ice bin in a clean container. Sanitize ice scoops and the container regularly.
- Don’t store food, drinks, fruit, etc. in the ice bin. Food can contaminate your ice supply!
Pay Attention to the Ice Machine and Clean It Regularly
- Inspect the exterior of the ice machine to ensure the door and handle are clean and in working condition.
- Always check for slime or mold growth inside the machine and bin. If present, clean the machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Staff should perform routine light cleaning. This should be part of their cleaning schedule!
Keep Up to Date on Professional Maintenance and Cleaning
Professional service and cleaning keep your ice clean and should be performed at least twice per year. Deep cleaning requires taking the ice machine apart. It best that this type of cleaning and inspection be performed by a qualified ice machine technician!
A typical cleaning from a professional service should include the following steps:
- Cutting power to the machine and emptying the ice bin.
- Taking off the outside cover and making sure the bin drain is free of obstructions.
- Cleaning all surfaces and vital components inside using specialized cleaners. This cleaning should be followed by an antibacterial sanitizer.
- Washing all plastic curtains, covers, ice scoops, etc.
- Inspecting that the bin door makes a secure seal for your ice supply.
- Turning the machine back on and timing the first full cycle of the machine to make sure it works properly.
Checking for Additional Ice Machine Issues
Inspecting for Biofilms
Microorganisms grow together to form a biofilm on food and ice containers, ice machine walls, and trays. Biofilms are a natural defense that protects microorganisms from cleaning agents. Biofilms can harbor bacteria and viruses like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Shigella which can make someone very sick.
Regular cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces is your best line of defense to keep your ice clean and safe from these microorganisms.
If you see biofilms in your ice machine, you can clean them out by scrubbing with a quat-based cleaning agent.
Repairs Faulty Ice Machine Components
Hoses and valves inside the ice machine prevent water from flowing back into the ice supply. If these pathways are blocked or damaged, they can’t properly guard against contamination.
A qualified ice machine technician will inspect these components and repair them and replace them if necessary.
If you notice that the door seal is damaged or loose, aim to get it replaced ASAP. Loose doors that are not properly sealed can allow dirt or other contaminants to enter your ice bin.
Finally, water filters need regular changing. This is often done twice per year, but yeasty or dusty work environments like bakeries and breweries will require more frequent replacements.
Check Your Ice Machine’s Ventilation
Air-cooled ice machines (the most common type you’ll find) require enough room to release hot air into the environment. Poor ventilation causes this heat to linger around the ice machine, which will lower your ice production rate.
Too much heat can also cause ice to melt faster and increase condensation inside the machine, which can lead to mold growth.
Following Proper Ice Safety Will Keep Ice Clean for Customers and Guests
Ice safety is just as important as food safety. We devised these tips to keep your ice machine running efficiently and producing clean ice, you can be sure your guests are getting clean, safe ice. Ignore these suggestions, and you’ll likely receive a violation, or worse, forced shut down by the Health Inspector.