As restaurants begin to reopen, hygiene will inevitably be at the forefront of everybody’s thinking and many operators will use it as a chance to review existing protocols. Ice machine hygiene is one area that every operator would be advised to pay extra attention to having been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years. FEJ assembled the market’s top experts and gave them three big questions to answer.
QUESTION 1: National pub and restaurant operators have often been the subject of national media scrutiny around the level of bacteria found in ice. Why does it appear to be so difficult to keep ice machines clean?
Often when bacteria is found in ice, it is from contamination during storage, for example the ice bucket, rather than the machine. That’s all about good hygiene practice — right down to simple things, like staff washing their hands and only using appropriate tools, such as tongs and scoops, to handle ice.
David Rees, marketing manager at Hubbard Systems, which markets the Scotsman range of ice machines in the UK, agrees that the frequency with which ice hygiene issues make the headlines suggests the message simply isn’t getting through. The key is quite simply to follow manufacturers’ guidelines, he insists.
“While human contact is the biggest vector for bacterial transmission, the storage bins also need to be regularly cleaned and should remain closed when not being used to minimise bacteria falling into the ice from the air. For the same reason, never use the ice bin as a method of cooling other items, for example bottles. There are lots of online resources that can help anyone looking for guidance on cleaning ice machines, such as our ‘how to’ videos.”
The other problem is that unless the water supply is very badly contaminated, it will not be immediately obvious that ice being produced is dangerous.
Mark Hogan, commercial director at Foodservice Equipment Marketing, which distributes the Manitowoc Ice range in the UK, says: “While ice machines from manufacturers like Manitowoc are designed with ease of maintenance in mind, it can be all too easy for operators to allow things like cleaning the storage bin on a weekly basis or giving the machine a full sanitisation and deep clean every six months to slip.”
Roz Scourfield, national sales manager at Hoshizaki UK, says that recent hygiene reports have proved that one of the most common causes of poor ice hygiene is a lack of basic personal hygiene of the user, and while foodservice operators can aim to prevent this with persistent training, it is difficult to guarantee that the advice will be taken on board by every member of staff at all times.
“It is therefore important for pubs and restaurants to invest in ice machines with hygiene-led features in order to counteract this possibility. For example, with Hoshizaki’s IM range of ice machines, operators can feel confident that their ice-making process is as sanitary as possible.
“This is thanks to the inclusion of a special ‘closed cell’ ice production feature which allows for ice to be produced in a sealed environment, and as such, prevents any kind of airborne bacteria entering the ice during the freezing process.”
Maidaid, meanwhile, says the cleaning procedure that it recommends for its range of ice makers is a time-consuming process, but it is necessary to ensure that the ice served to customers is given the same level of consideration as any other food product.
“If carried out at regular intervals then the process will not be as time-consuming as the bacteria that causes health issues will not be as evident,” explains sales director Rob Wager. “We suggest that a time or day is selected for cleaning that coincides with a day that is historically quieter for customer footfall.
“We will shortly be introducing an automatic sanitising wash cycle on the most popular models that will prove to greatly reduce the time required in cleaning as the machine will run the process unattended, leaving the operators time to engage in other activities,” he adds.
QUESTION 2: Are there any new features, devices or technology that can help foodservice operators ensure optimal ice machine hygiene?
With ice machines, it’s not so much the improvements in technology as the improvements in operation when it comes to hygiene, insists Mark Hogan at FEM. He cites products such as the Saf-T ice scoop from San Jamar — which contains guards to ensure there’s no way for ice to touch skin as it is removed from the unit — as useful tools in this respect. The Saf-T range also includes dedicated ice carriers that minimise the risk of contamination.
“Having the right equipment in the kitchen makes it simple for staff to implement and maintain correct practice,” he says. “There is no excuse for poor ice hygiene when equipment like this exists, especially as it’s inexpensive and readily available.”
FEM’s new Manitowoc Indigo models feature a corrosion-resistant, DuraTech-finished exterior which resists fingerprints and dirt, while the key components are made from an antimicrobial material that reduces slime build-up.
“An optional patented LuminIce growth inhibitor is available, which controls the growth of bacteria and yeast in the food zone, keeping the ice pure and uncontaminated. Other features like slide-out air filters help to make routine cleaning quicker.”
Features found in the modern generation of ice machines, such as anti-microbial compounds included in key components, are playing an important role in guaranteeing hygiene and improving efficiency.
“Any operator who is concerned about a potential problem with their ice machine can use the 3M Clean ‘n Trace kit,” says David Rees at Hubbard Systems. “The operator just swabs the area — in this case the inside of the storage bin — then pops the swab into a solution that will change colour to show if there is an issue with bacteria.”
QUESTION 3: What are your top tips for ensuring ice machine hygiene?
Restaurant operators can ensure their ice makers continue to produce high quality ice and maintain exceptional levels of hygiene by regularly inspecting and following manufacturers’ cleaning regimes.
“Not only is it imperative to clean the ice maker itself but it’s important to regularly clean the storage bin, door and even the ice scoop as this will help to prevent ice contamination,” insists Rob Wager at Maidaid.
“Regularly completely refreshing the ice in the storage bin — especially in low usage establishments — will also help to achieve a consistent high quality ice cube. In the interests of hygiene, Maidaid includes a ‘wash hands before use’ label with every ice maker supplied, which we suggest is applied to the bin lid where it will be visible to all users.”
Hoshizaki’s advice for maintaining ice hygiene includes ensuring all staff are trained on how to use the ice machines and are made properly aware of the dangers of contamination and the measures to prevent it.
Roz Scourfield says that operators should also empty ice bins at least once a week so that the correct level of cleaning and sanitisation can be carried out.
“Ensure all objects in contact with the ice, such as scoops, tongs and buckets, are clean and are not stored within the ice compartment in between uses. Move ice storage vessels away from customer reach. And make regular checks to ensure the machine is in good condition, especially the ice storage door.”
Ice is classed as a food and therefore those using ice makers need to ensure the machines are kept hygienic, that ice is handled correctly and best practices are followed.
Having a maintenance schedule for the components that need regular cleaning will also help to make sure equipment is kept in peak condition.
“The ice storage bin should be fully emptied, cleaned and sanitised on a weekly basis,” advises Mark Hogan at FEM. “Machines should be deep cleaned and sanitised every six months. Refer to the operator’s manual to find model-specific instructions.”