Ice is food.

Some food service operators and their employees take that fact for granted. They don’t take proper precautionary measures to handle the product properly or the necessary preventive maintenance measures to ensure that the ice machine is clean, sanitary and operating safely.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-scoop-ice-close-up-cubes-stainless-image53238196Listed below are some best practices and questions to ask. Some are basic and some are worth taking a second look.

  • Make sure to properly clean the floor drain, inspect for leaks, and remove any standing water on the floor under the ice machine. This can be a breeding area for drain/fruit flies or any other species of fly. I have seen both live and dead flies that have made their way into the machine or in direct contact with the ice.
  • While we’re on the topics of insects, look out for cockroaches. The warm, wet areas can be a favorite hangout, especially the interior motor area behind the front panel. If there is an infestation, you may have contaminated ice. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a potential Salmonella infection in my adult beverage. Ask yourself: What are those little black specks frozen in the cubes?
  • That ice shovel, where are we storing it? Is it hung on a dirty wall, does it even get cleaned or sanitized, is the contact surface excessively scored or chipped, or are your maintenance personnel using the ice shovel to remove garbage from the compactor pad, too?
  • Is the ice scoop stored on top of the dusty ice machine top? Is the contact surface compromised, or the scoop used for something else?
  • Do we make sure we disconnect the ice machine, empty it, and clean and sanitize the interior when there is a contaminated water emergency? Is there a backflow prevention device on the unit?
  • What does the gasket to the ice machine door look like? If it is damaged, humid air can constantly enter the interior of the machine and accelerate mold growth. I am assuming that everyone looks for pink or black mold growth, especially around the chute and interior surfaces of ice machines.
  • Are the inside walls of the ice machine rusted?
  • Clean the dust off the filter. It will help the ice machine’s performance and save electricity. Speaking of filters, how about that black water filter that is mounted near the machine on the wall? Ever wonder about changing that?
  • Is there a contracted company that takes care of cleaning and preventive maintenance of the ice machine? There should be, at least once a month.
  • Are food handling employees properly trained in handling ice? Do they scoop ice with their bare hands or a glass? Are they using enough ice to keep products cold if necessary, or are they reusing contaminated ice?

Ice and ice machines need to be taken into consideration throughout the year, not just as a summer afterthought.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

  • MN Born

    I worked food service for a decade before starting my degree work which heavily involved food safety and sanitation – it makes me cringe to remember all the disgusting habits in nearly every food establishment surrounding ice. Inspectors should be questioning employees as to their ice handling practices rather than checking if there is a light bulb in the closet!!!

    • LP

      We do, in addtion to “…..checking if there is a light bulb in the closet!!!” isn’t a question of “rather than” as any darkened room adjacent to a food service area is inviting pests.

      • MN Born

        You might. My experience with CA inspections does not inspire confidence. However, I should not paint all inspectors with such a broad brush, that was careless – my apologies.

        • LP

          Thanks for that Born. No worries.

  • GG

    What about air gaps on lines going into floor drains? We’ve had an outbreak from back siphonage of sewage into the machine that no one was aware of.

  • Dave Walpuck

    Thank you for your comments.

  • Kitsy WooWoo

    Whenever I eat out with friends, I always tell the waitress/waiter “No ice, with lemon on the side, please.” We’ve heard horror stories about unwashed lemons as well. (Usually, I end up drinking the bottle of water/ACV I’ve toted along with me, anyway.)

    • Dave Walpuck

      Take a good look at your glass too. If it is chipped or you find a nice shade of lipstick, that could be a problem as well. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing.

  • Randy Lyons

    David, you may wish to add; does your establishment have a written procedure for employees to follow that indicates the cleaning schedule for the scoops/shovels, outside of machine, inside of the machine and what needs to be done, chemicals used, concentration levels, who is responsible for the work, who is responsible to verify the work and how the work will be recorded?

    • Dave Walpuck

      Good Points. Thank you.

  • Thomas Johnson

    This topic has been taken up by the Conference for Food Protection (CFP). The CFP is hosted by FDA CFSAN and makes recommendations to FDA for updates and revisions to its FDA Food Code. Ice is a food – yet food contact surfaces within an ice machine are not accessible or visible without the use of tools, and cannot be accessed to be cleaned, and if they cannot be cleaned – they cannot be sanitized. Our ice machine cleaning committee charged by Council I of the CFP will report our findings and recommendations back to the 2016 CFP. Stay tuned.

    GG – too bad the plumbing official did not catch that – unless no permit was pulled – in which case the negligence is “owned” by the operator. . .