Unfortunately, the piece of equipment that makes the most consumed food product in the United States is considered “home” to some awful stuff that can pose major health risks for your customers and maintenance nightmares for your equipment.
Yeast - This is a particular problem in restaurants that are baking, cooking “breaded” chicken or even brewing beer. Yeast particles are prevalent in the air and they make their way into the ice machine, multiplying quickly. Yeast can affect those with allergies and create a lot of work for anyone cleaning or servicing ice machines.
Mold - Another nuisance for ice machines. Mold spores are everywhere and easily find their way into the cold, dark and damp corners of the ice machine; especially where the water comes in and the ice is being made. Same as yeast, mold affects people with allergies and requires a lot of cleanings.
Bacteria - It’s impossible to avoid bacteria ending up in the ice machine. It can make it’s way there through the water, air, or even from an employee. Some bacteria aren’t harmful to humans, but others, like fecal coliform bacteria (aka. E. coli), can cause illness - or worse. Rigorous ice machine cleaning and sanitizing help to reduce contamination so that bacteria don’t end up becoming part of this next unwanted inhabitant.
Biofilm - Biofilm is a buildup of layers of bacteria (and also mold and yeast in an ice machine) that creates a slimy, protective barrier for itself. It attaches itself to surfaces and is difficult to kill. Biofilm can cause off-taste and off-odor and even illness if it’s harboring harmful bacteria, like E. coli, Salmonella, Legionella or more.
You - And finally, foodservice workers often contaminate ice through contact. Hands are dirty, even if they don’t appear to be. Touching a scoop or leaning on the bin can introduce bacteria into the machine; especially if a worker is sick or has poor hygiene.
So, what can we do to keep these harmful and unwanted threats away from our commercial ice machines? First, it is important to clean your ice machines by the manufacturer’s recommendations frequently. We’re not talking twice a year for descaling, we’re talking multiple times a month for a real clean. How often you’ll need to clean your machine is dependent on what you’re cooking, where your ice machine is located and the volume at which you’re going through ice.
Also keep in mind some basic cleanliness best practices. Train your staff on safe ice handling methods, including: wash hands thoroughly before opening the ice bin and retrieving ice; sanitize the ice scoop and buckets daily; and how to safely store the ice scoop and buckets so they don’t get contaminated. For more details on how to properly clean your machines and safe handling practices check out this article from QSR.
And finally, there is a solution for taking your ice machine’s cleanliness to the next level. The Eco3Ice from Franke is a simple device that attaches to your machine’s water line, adding disinfectant back to the incoming water for protection. More than that, the ozone created in the water travels through the ice-making path and stays in the ice cubes in the bin until it melts and dissipates quickly; killing 99.9% of bacteria in finished ice, reducing microbial buildup and reducing time between cleanings. Fun fact, did you know every bottle of water you drink has trace amounts of ozone stored within to help keep the water clean for you to drink?
Even though your ice comes in contact with gross stuff, take heart in the fact that with a good cleaning schedule, educated employees, and Eco3Ice, your customers will never have to know.