What is growing inside your ice machine?

Dirty ice machine

Operators will religiously scrub down ovens, grills and surfaces after service, but items such as ice machines rarely get the same attention. Yet the fact is they remain a breeding ground for germs if they aren’t sufficiently cleaned and maintained. Catering equipment and refrigeration service specialist Acme Facilities Group explains what it takes to dodge an equipment headache…

Contaminated ice is a health issue and is a frequent finding on health department food sanitation reports, yet commercial ice machines remain the least cared for food machines in a range of industries.

Can you remember the last time you cleaned your ice machine? Take off the cover and see for yourself what is growing inside. You are likely to find some fairly nasty bacteria infecting the ice you serve.

Microbial growth spoils the tubing. Slime clogs the pump, screen and float switch. Scale hardens on the evaporator and water valves, deforming the ice cubes and causing the ice machine to work harder. Mould, if not removed, can destroy the housing, motor and electronics.

Ice machines are food equipment

Ice has many functions: it is a food or food ingredient, it is commonly used in drinks both whole and crushed, it is used for cold food display, for chilling packaged food and drinks, and is also used to rapidly chill cooked foods.

Therefore, ice machines require the same concerns for sanitation as any other foodservice equipment and must be cleaned regularly and to manufacturers’ standards in order to reduce contamination — contaminated ice has been associated with numerous foodborne disease outbreaks.

Take off the cover and see what is growing inside. You are likely to find some fairly nasty bacteria infecting the ice you serve”

It is easy to overlook the risks associated with a lack of ice machine maintenance but according to FDA regulations ice needs to be stored and handled like food, and that means that ice machines need regular cleaning — at least two to four times a year or as recommended by the manufacturer.

Depending on your usage, the location of the machine and the water conditions, you may need to clean it more often. For example, a very heavily used unit located near a cooking line inside a kitchen restaurant may need cleaning as often as every month.

Commercial ice machines that are lacking a proper water filtration system are particularly vulnerable to increased microbial growth, scale and slime-forming bacteria.

Top tips

Once your ice machine is clean and sanitised on a regular basis, there are guidelines that you should follow to ensure the prevention of contamination in between cleanings:

•    Do not remove ice from the storage bin with your bare hands

•    Do not return unused ice to the storage bin

•    Keep the door or lid of the storage bin closed when ice is not being collected

•    Ensure that you keep the ice scoop clean at all times

•    Do not store your ice scoop in the ice bin

•    Do not store food, containers or other objects within the ice bin

•    Make sure that you use dedicated ice buckets for transport

•    Change your water filters on a regular basis

•    Consider periodically testing your ice and ice machine surfaces for the presence of contaminants

Cleaning regime

It is important that you leave the cleaning of your ice machine to the experts. You  need to know how to disassemble the machine, meticulously clean all of the parts including the water line, and then put it all back together again.

Professional refrigeration service experts not only know all the ins and outs of your machine and the correct techniques to ensure that you ice is clean, but they also know how to inspect your machine for any problems.

Including your ice machine as part of a refrigeration preventative maintenance plan will reduce costs while ensuring you are following all necessary laws and regulations.

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