It’s easy to overlook the risks associated with ice machines, since we don’t tend to think of ice as food. The FDA, however, does define ice as food. Contaminated ice can cause foodborne illnesses just as easily as contaminated food. Contaminants can be introduced by airborne particles, contaminated water supply, dirty utensils, and especially improper ice handling. Numerous pathogens have been identified in contaminated ice, particularly from ice making equipment. These pathogens have included: Norovirus, Salmonella, E. coli, Legionella, Hepatitis A, mold, cholera, Shigella and mycobacterium. Contaminated ice can contain these pathogens and still look, smell and taste just fine.

Current and traditional methods of cleaning and sanitizing ice making equipment have come under scrutiny. The Conference for Food Protection, a non governmental, non profit agency, conducted a review of regulatory agencies and ice maker manufacturer’s regarding their standards for cleaning and sanitizing ice making equipment. Their committee concluded “ it is clear from a review of manufacturer’s installation and service instructions that there is a lack of scientific data for validation of the limited cleaning and sanitizing instructions that are provided”. They recommended to NSF International that they create a working group to review and update the existing NSF Automatic Ice Making Equipment Standard for cleaning and sanitizing certification.

Technology Updates

Enhancements have been added to ice making equipment to help to minimize the inherent problems of earlier models. These include: automated cleaning cycles, light indicators when the unit needs cleaning and servicing, sensors that detect scale buildup, UV disinfection, and use of metals that confer a degree of bacteriostasis on wettable parts.

The most important factor in preventing ice contamination,in any ice making equipment, is to follow basic precautions as outlined on the NSF International website:

  1. Keep the access doors to ice storage chests and ice machines closed except when removing ice.
  2. Remove all extraneous equipment and items from around or in the ice making machines.
  3. Do not store anything but ice within the storage bin. Not even the scoop.
  4. Always be sure to wash your hands before handling ice or ice utensils
  5. Only use the handle of the scoop when retrieving ice. Never handle ice with bare hands. The scoop should be kept outside the bin in a sanitary location between uses. Employees should never use a cup or a glass as a scoop.
  6. Ice scoops should be smooth and protected against contact with contaminated surfaces such as floors, access door handles, service carts, and non food contact surfaces.
  7. Never put ice back into the ice holding bin.
  8. All ice handling equipment should be washed daily in a dishwasher and sanitized according to health department standards.
  9. Completely empty and clean ice storage bins on a weekly or biweekly basis.
  10. Read the owner’s manual thoroughly to know which cleaners and sanitizers to use.The manuals should include guidelines, both methods and frequency, for cleaning and sanitizing. If not stated then refer to guidelines of the local health department or FDA Food Code.
  11. A thorough six month cleaning will insure that built up scale, dust and other debris is kept off the machine and will insure the life and effectiveness of the machine.
  12. Note any warnings pertaining to the cleaning of the ice machine in the owner’s manual.
  13. Consider routine microbiologic sampling of the ice and ice contact surfaces of the machine.
  14. Always change the water filters at the recommended intervals.
  15. Vacuum the filters, around the coils and cooling unit to get rid of dust that is naturally attracted to these warm surfaces.
  16. Store the ice machine in an area where cross contamination is minimized.

Most importantly, inform employees about the potential of foodborne illnesses from contaminated ice and the critical precautions to keeping ice safe.

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Dr. Gary Russotti MD, MS

Dr. Gary Russotti MD, MS Idea Boxx 

Director of Medical/Biochemical R&D and Regulatory Compliance