Beverages are filled and refilled dozens, even hundreds of times per day. However, what is in your cup?

A 2017 undercover study by the BBC investigated iced beverages in the U.K. and found that out of 30 samples taken from three different fast-food restaurants, more than half were contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria. The culprit? Dirty ice.

It’s important to clean and sanitize your ice machine regularly—before any debris or slime can form. If slime develops, it may be pink, green, brown or black mold. Or, if your machine is not cleaned, harmful microorganisms such as Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, and Shigella can grow and spread through the ice and to your guests.

Every ice machine is different, so it is critical to know the models of ice machine in your facility, know what areas need to be cleaned and sanitized, and commit to cleaning and sanitizing them at the right frequency. Common ice machine areas that will need to be part of your cleaning and sanitizing process are the lid, the deflector panel, the chute, and the motor housing.

Follow these tips to keep your ice machine mold and slime-free:

  • Inspect your ice machine weekly: Check for the presence of any debris or slime, especially on interior surfaces. A towel dipped in sanitizer and wrung out can be used to wipe off slime.
  • Double check quality of cleaning: Follow-up on cleaning performed by any vendor or team member to ensure surfaces were properly cleaned and all debris was removed.
  • Thoroughly investigate dim areas: Use a flashlight to inspect interior areas. This helps to see dim areas, such as around and into the ice chute.
  • Increase cleaning frequency: Increase cleaning frequency as needed. Don’t wait until visible debris or slime develops. Refer to the operations manual for your machine for proper cleaning procedures.

Maintaining an ice machine can become slightly more complex in locations where multiple departments share a machine. In these locations, it’s very important to designate which department is responsible for the cleanliness of that machine and ensure that a routine schedule is followed. Otherwise, the machine may get overlooked as employees assume that “someone else” has taken care of the cleaning.

But don’t forget that it’s more than just the cleaning of the machine that can affect ice cleanliness. Ice can be contaminated through improper handling procedures— employees scooping ice with their bare hands, or tossing an ice scoop that has been touched by multiple staff members back into the ice. Thus, it is imperative that proper ice handling is enforced with your team. Proper handling includes:

Always washing your hands before handling ice;

  • Using an approved scoop and holding only by the handle; not using glass or cups to scoop ice
  • Storing the ice scoop outside of the ice bin in a clean holder
  • Ensuring that both the scoop and the holder are cleaned and sanitized frequently/as needed

It’s also important to note that microbiological culprits aren’t the only ones to blame for ice contamination. Ice can also become physical contaminated—using a damaged scoop, using glass (which can break), and storing personal items in the ice (like your staff’s personal drinks) can all contaminate the ice.

Although it might not be listed on the menu, ice is one of the most frequently used food items at your food operations. Continual reminders to your staff can help enforce proper behaviors for ice machine cleaning and ice handling—use signs and your team meetings as opportunities to remind your staff of the proper ice handling and cleaning procedures. Doing so will help you keep the iced beverages you serve safe for all customers.

As Technical Director at Steritech, Jessica Leatherman has nearly two decades of experience working with restaurant and retail customers to customize and design food safety and operational service excellence assessment programs based on their unique technical specifications. She also reviews data collected during the course of assessments to identify trends and root cause issues and create corrective action programs that help organizations drive improvement. In addition to this, Jessica oversees a team of technical standards consultants that are experts in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code; these experts consult with clients to help them evolve their assessment programs as their operations grow and change. Jessica has a degree in Biochemistry from Indiana University and holds the Certified Professional—Food Safety credential from the National Environmental Health Association.
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