Ice is considered a food by the FDA, but can it really spread foodborne illness the same way a piece of chicken would? Chicago restaurants and bars need to worry about ice contamination just as much as food contamination. Ensuring that you’re following proper guidelines will prevent your customers and employees from becoming sick.
Knowing what types of foodborne illnesses spread through commercial ice machines and what you can do to prevent them will help to keep your ice supply safe and sanitary.
The Germs That Can Live on Ice
Although ice contamination is like food contamination, ice doesn’t attract germs the same way food does. Since the surface of an ice cube is cold, it’s not covered in organic material that germs use to multiply. Contamination in ice happens when germs are introduced by someone using the ice machine or from dirty scoops and utensils.
There are a few very common germs that cause problems in the food industry. E. coli and Norovirus are foodborne illnesses that are a common problem in Chicago restaurants and bars. These viruses often spread when food handlers don’t properly wash their hands after using restroom facilities.
Other rarer illnesses like Hepatitis A can spread through your ice, causing serious illness. Another disease, Legionella, can contaminate your water supply. On average, Legionella infects 20,000 people a year worldwide. It thrives in warmer weather above 70 degrees and transmits through inhalation. While getting Hepatitis A or Legionella in your ice supply is uncommon, it can happen, and you should do your best to keep your supply as clean as possible.
Preventing Ice Contamination
Preventing food contamination is usually just a matter of practicing proper food handling and cleaning procedures. The same goes for ice. Since ice contamination is usually caused by people bringing in the germs, good hygiene and cleaning practices are paramount. Cleaning and maintenance can also help to prevent a dirty ice machine which may produce unsafe ice.
Handling Your Ice
Ice contamination starts with the user, so it’s important to make sure employees are handling it safely.
To start, employees must always wash their hands before handling the ice supply. They should practice the same level of safety and care that they would if they were handling food.
Even if clean, employees should never handle the ice directly with their hands or drinkware. Your hands constantly touch other surfaces and have the potential to spread contaminants. Drinkware also can transmit germs since they’re not designed to safely handle ice. By touching the surface of the glass, you can easily transfer contaminants from drinkware to the ice supply.
An ice scoop should always be used by employees to grab ice for customers. Make sure employees only touch the handle of the scoop. Touching the shovel part of the scoop can spread germs to the ice supply – and into someone’s drink.
This is why commercial ice dispensers are a more hygienic option since employees can retrieve ice contact-free.
Only Keep Fresh Ice in Your Bin
Ice bins are meant to keep your ice supply safe and sanitary until it’s ready to use.
The only thing you should even store in your ice bin is ice. You should never place cans or bottles in the ice to cool. Also, never place food in the ice bin as it can easily transfer foodborne pathogens to the ice.
While you should always use an ice scoop, you should never store the scoop in your ice bin. The shovel of the scoop may be clean, but the handle is not. It’s best to store your ice scoop in a clean container outside of the ice bin.
Remember, it’s also not a good practice to put unused ice back into the bin as it may have been contaminated. If an employee happens to grab more ice than they need, instead of putting it back into the bin, they should dispose of it.
Cleaning and Maintenance Prevents Ice Contamination
Routinely cleaning the areas on the ice bin that get touched frequently, like bin door handles and ice scoops, can kill any germs.
Following your machine’s guidelines, cleaning the exterior of your ice machine and bin regularly can help you maintain a safe ice supply. Your employees can follow our helpful Ice Bin Cleaning Guide to properly take care of potential ice contamination.
Your ice scoop should also be cleaned daily. Use an EPA-approved disinfecting agent to disinfect your scoop and then rinse with hot water. To make it even easier, you can also clean your ice scoop by running it through a cycle in your commercial dishwasher.
With routine cleaning, ice machine manufacturers still recommend getting at least two professional ice machine technician visits per year. An ice machine technician in the Chicago area can clean and disinfect harder-to-reach parts inside the unit. They’ll rid your machine of germs, mold, and scale which not only keeps your ice supply clean but also helps to extend the life of your commercial ice equipment.
For more information on how to clean your ice machine, check out our guide on How to Clean your Hoshizaki Ice Machine and How to Clean your Manitowoc Ice Machine. These brands produce the best ice machines on the market, so maintaining them properly is important to keep them running in great shape.
How to Prevent Ice Contamination
If you use a combination of ice handling practices and routine cleaning, you can help keep your Chicago business’s ice supply safe. Having regular safety meetings with your employees will help to ensure they’re following safety guidelines to avoid ice contamination. Along with professional care, you’ll have a clean ice supply for your employees and customers.