Ensure Ice Safety by Cleaning Frequently, Handling Properly

    Ice is considered a food, meaning operators have to make sure it's as safe as drinking water.

    When it comes to ice, the Food and Drug Administration is crystal clear: Ice is considered a food—and it must be as safe as drinking water. The rule applies whether the ice is to be consumed or placed in contact with food or beverages to cool them.

    The challenge for quick-service restaurants is to ensure the safety of the ice they serve. Before ice fills a customer’s cup, it is subject to potential contamination from a number of sources, including the water used to make it, the air that contacts it, the equipment that freezes and dispenses it, and the utensils and hands that handle it. 

    If ice becomes contaminated, even its below-freezing temperature  cannot assure that disease-causing microorganisms are eliminated. “Freezing does not invariably kill viruses and bacteria that cause foodborne illness,” says Amelia Trant, Senior Microbiologistat Ecolab. “Instead, it could even preserve them. Ice is not safe just because it is frozen.”

    So how can you best ensure that the ice you serve is safe?

    “Proper cleaning of ice machines and ice bins and good ice-handling practices will help maintain ice safety and quality,” Trant says.  “And if you use a water filter, be sure to change it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.”

    Clean ice machines and ice bins frequently

    To help keep ice free of potentially harmful microorganisms, establish a routine for cleaning and sanitizing your ice machine, bins and utensils. “Frequency is critical,” Trant says. The Food and Drug Administration recommends cleaning and sanitizing ice-making equipment at the frequency specified by the manufacturer or, if lacking the manufacturer’s instructions, as needed to prevent the build-up of soil or mold.

    Follow these steps to clean your ice machine and bins:

    • Use a sturdy step stool to help ensure personal safety when cleaning an ice machine at a beverage dispensing station.
    • Turn off the ice machine.
    • Discard any leftover ice.
    • Wipe down the interior and exterior bin surfaces with a clean, sanitizer-soaked towel. 
    • Spray surfaces with sanitizer and allow to air dry.
    • Clean the gaskets and the inside of door surfaces. 
    • Shine a bright light inside the machine to visually inspect the corners, upper surfaces, and difficult-to-see areas. Look to see if there is residual soil or contamination. If there is, repeat the cleaning process.
    • Before turning the ice machine on, make sure no sanitizer solution has collected inside the machine. If it has, remove it before starting the machine.


    Practice safe ice-handling

    Like other food, ice is subject to contamination when improperly handled. Ecolab’s Trant recommends training restaurant employees to follow these guidelines when handling ice:

    • Wash hands properly:
      • Wet hands with warm water and apply soap.
      • Rub hands together vigorously for 15–20 seconds, covering all surfaces including the fingers.
      • Rinse hands with warm water.
      • Thoroughly dry with disposable towel or air blower.
      • Use towel to turn off faucet
    • Put on gloves before removing ice from an ice machine or ice bins.
    • Keep ice bins clean. Do not place them on the floor while filling them or after use. 
    • Use a clean dolly or cart to transport ice bins.
    • Only use ice scoops to serve ice; never use a cup as an ice scoop. Store ice scoops in a clean and protected location.
    • Wash, rinse, and sanitize ice scoops every four hours.
    • Discard cracked or chipped scoops, bins, and other ice transport devices.


    Ensuring that the ice you serve is clean and safe doesn’t need to be complicated. You can keep it simple by making frequent cleaning of your ice equipment part of your overall cleaning and sanitation schedule—and by emphasizing good ice-handling practices day to day and during staff training.

    By Dixie Berg for Ecolab