It's more than enough to make you lose your appetite: One of the least sanitary places in a restaurant is the ice machine – not what anyone wants to hear, especially during the season of cool drinks. As The Rail reports, a 2006 study found that 70 percent of ice in ice machines contained more bacteria than the water in a toilet. How can you avoid this, right now? A weekly cleaning with a chlorine solution can keep mold and slime at bay, while a water softener or phosphate filter can prevent scale buildup. Have the machine professionally serviced on a regular basis as well. Look for traces of mold, slime, scale or sediment in your ice machine regularly, and use a clean scoop (stored outside of the machine) to scoop ice.
There’s nothing like a cool drink on a warm day. Just make sure your team is handling ice as safely as possible day to day, as your ice machine can be a haven for bacteria and viruses. Have employees wash hands before scooping ice from the bin. Store the scoop outside of the machine and consider it the only tool used to scoop ice – don’t use glassware, which could chip and cause a safety hazard or contaminate ice in the machine. Sanitize your scoop in your dishwasher. Finally, keep your ice machine door closed securely when not in use.
Your ice machine may be a key source of contamination in your restaurant if you don’t take proper precautions. A study by the BBC in 2017 found that in 30 samples of iced beverages collected from three quick-service restaurants in the U.K., more than half were contaminated with fecal bacteria because of dirty ice. Since ice machines vary, take care to note in your food safety procedures how and when your machine’s manufacturer advises you to clean and sanitize your machine. QSR Magazine suggests operators inspect their machine each week for the buildup of slime or debris on interior surfaces in particular. Have a vendor or team member double-check the quality of a cleaning and use a flashlight to illuminate any dimly lit or hard-to-reach areas. Finally, don’t wait for slime to develop – if you see traces of it, increase the frequency of your cleaning to avoid the likelihood of contamination.
Inadequate cleaning of food-contact surfaces remains the top food safety problem at restaurants. That’s according to a recent review of 250,000 food safety inspection assessments from the past year by the Steritech Institute, which administers food safety training certification. Chris Boyles, vice president of the Steritech Institute, told Fast Casual that the most problematic areas of restaurants tend to be the inside of ice machines, as well as soda fountain nozzles and cutting boards. To prevent the growth of bacteria on these surfaces, have clear training and monitoring procedures for cleaning and sanitizing. For example, any equipment that must be disassembled to be cleaned and sanitized each day should be left to air dry and then checked by the opening and closing managers to verify that the item has gone through the proper procedures.
As the weather warms up and guests are looking to cool down with chilled food and beverages, remember to treat your ice like food — or risk spreading harmful bacteria. Train employees to wash hands before handling ice and to not touch ice with their bare hands but use clean, sanitized scoops. Statefoodsafety.com also advises that any ice used to chill food or beverages be made from drinking water to prevent contamination.