Ever since the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) ran an article on the food safety of crushed ice more than 60 years ago, the focus on the safety of commercial, crushed ice has been closely scrutinized. Ice should always be considered food. Following safe food handling guidelines is of paramount importance in order to reduce the chance of contamination or illness.
Today, with an eye toward thorough sanitization practices and keeping ice as clean as possible, more manufacturers of ice machines make their equipment to be resistant to bacteria. Self-contained systems that utilize stainless steel in order to make clean, sanitary ice are the norm rather than the exception. Other antiseptic measures include antimicrobial surfaces, machine designs that are easy to clean thoroughly, and UV lights inside of the ice bin.
No matter what ice machine brand or model you have, there are basic precautions that should be followed in the interests of health and food safety as outlined on the NSF International website.
When making or handling ice, the below precautions should be taken.
- Do not store anything but ice within the ice machine storage bin so that there is no potential for contamination. Not even the scoop.
- Always be sure to wash your hands before handling ice or utensils that touch ice.
- Only use the handle of the scoop when retrieving ice. Never handle ice with bare hands. The scoop should be kept outside of the bin in a sanitary location between uses. Employees should never use the cup or glass for customer use as a scoop.
- Never put ice that is unused back into the ice holding bin. Instead, discard it and start with fresh ice.
- All ice handling equipment such as scoops should be washed daily in the kitchen dishwasher and sanitized properly according to health department standards.
- If you need to store some ice outside of the bin, make use of dedicated containers that are labeled “Ice only” so that they are only used for that purpose. These should also be washed daily.
- By completely emptying and cleaning ice storage bins on a weekly or biweekly basis, you can cut the risk of possible contamination. Since ice machines are cold and damp places, bacteria, molds, and fungi can grow inside of them. Not only that, they can stay dormant for quite some time. The bare minimum for completely cleaning ice storage bin areas should be no less than once per month. Also, cleaning and sanitizing the bin of an ice maker will help eliminate odors and improve the taste of the ice.
- Read your owner’s manual thoroughly to know which cleaners and sanitizers to use. The manual will also give recommended guidelines for how often the machine should be cleaned.
- It is a very good idea to completely clean and descale an ice machine once every six months by following your ice machine manufacturer’s instructions. Even if machine is self-cleaning, consider doing it at least twice a year in addition to the bin regular cleanings that are done two or four times per month unless the owner’s manual says otherwise. A thorough six month cleaning will insure that built up scale, dust and other debris is regularly kept off the machine and will insure the life and effectiveness of the machine. Your ice will taste better and there will be less chance of contamination.
- Note any warnings pertaining to the cleaning of your ice machine in the owner’s manual. If these aren’t followed, you could potentially harm your machine’s overall performance and ability to resist bacteria. Notably, you don’t want to damage any antimicrobial surfaces. Some manufacturers require specific cleaning solutions that are run through the machine then flushed out with water or a certain number of full ice cycles before the ice is safe for use once more.
- Consider routine microbiologic sampling of the ice and ice contact surfaces of the machine. Although this is not necessary, it can be an extra check to ensure workers are properly sanitizing the machine.
- Water filters do an excellent job keeping bacteria from getting in through the water supply, but if they are not maintained they can be worse than nothing. Always change the filter at the recommended intervals, and be sure to get one that can handle the hardness of your water as well.
- Don’t forget to vacuum around the coils and cooling unit to get rid of dust that is naturally attracted to these warm surfaces. Dust and dirt can clog a motor and over time will reduce its performance or even cause it to overheat and pose a potential fire hazard. Dust particles can also harbor dangerous bacteria. If your machine has a filter, be sure to either clean it to get out dust and debris if it is a permanent filter, or replace it with a replacement filter made for your model of machine.
- Store your ice machine in an area where cross-contamination is less of a possibility. Keeping an ice machine well enough away from stoves, refrigerators, and other kitchen appliances can help accomplish this.
By following these steps, you can help prevent bacteria from getting into your ice and into your customers. Employees should also be trained in these steps so they can keep watch for any safety concerns. Remember, if ice smells or tastes strange in any way, or if a bacterial growth is noticed in the bin, throw the ice out! It is better to be safe than sorry.