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Is Ice A Food?

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The commonly held belief that ice will take care of itself because it's cold is just not true. The fact that ice is cold will not kill the viruses and bacteria that cause foodborne illness if introduced. In fact, Anna Starobin, PhD Senior Scientist and ice expert with Ecolab names a number of microorganisms that have caused illness outbreaks associated with ice, including Shigella, E. coli O157:H7, Norovirus, Hepatitis A, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia.


Water, air, equipment (such as ice dispensing units and utensils) and hands have all been noted in the research as sources of contamination, according to Dr. Starobin.

The FDA Food Code defines ice as a food. It is important to handle ice the same way as you would food. You would never think to handle lettuce greens when you are sick, transfer a cooked chicken breast with unwashed hands or cut cake slices with a dirty knife. It should be the same when handling ice.


Proper personal hygiene and cleaning and sanitizing are important ways to prevent ice from becoming contaminated just as they are ways to keeping food safe.


The basics of personal hygiene that apply to handling food apply to handling ice as well. Employees who are sick with or have symptoms of illness similar to that caused by microorganisms that cause foodborne illness must not work around food. This will prevent the contamination of ice, ice making and storing equipment and utensils used to transport ice. Employees with cuts or lesions must cover them with a bandage and an impermeable covering such as a glove, when handling ice making and transporting equipment. Just as with any other ready-to-eat food, ice must never be handled with bare hands. Scoops or tongs are the best way to transfer and serve ice. However, if an employee must handle ice with their bare hands, they need to use single-use gloves over properly washed hands. And it's a good idea to train employees not only to wash hands before putting on gloves, but any time before they handle scoops, tongs, totes and buckets as an extra measure of protection.

Ice used as food and that comes in contact with food must be as safe as drinking water, according to the Food Code. One of the best ways to ensure that ice is made safely is to create a sanitation plan and schedule that addresses every aspect of ice production.The frequency of cleaning depends upon many things. Consider first the location of the machine: machines positioned in high traffic areas may be exposed to foodborne pathogens and dirt more than those situated in out-of-the-way locations. While you may not have the option to relocate the machine, consider however that you may need to clean your machine more frequently.

Dr. Starobin notes that research has shown that machines in certain types of operations, say a bakery with its yeast, may also need to have more frequent cleanings. Consider, too the frequency of machine use. You may need to step up the cleaning schedule based on seasonal use – more often in summer when cool drinks are in demand than in winter.

A thorough cleaning of the ice machine should already a part of your sanitation plan, but take a moment to review your SOP to be sure it includes the following. Before you begin cleaning the machine, store enough ice in bags or plastic bins with lids that you would typically use in a day since once you empty the machine, it may take up to 24 hours to fill back up again. Use clean scoops and bins and proper personal hygiene when transferring the ice from the machine to prevent contamination. Then, dump any remaining ice or pull the drain and turn off the machine and allow the remaining ice to melt – whichever is recommended by the machine's manufacturer. The next step is to take the machine apart. If your manufacturer is responsible for doing this make sure they're identified on the SOP, the same if it's one of your managers or employees so no one assumes the other is doing it. Next, remove and change out the filter. Regardless if this is the responsibility of the manufacturer or an employee, be sure this step is identified on the SOP – and verify that this step is completed since it's often forgotten, according to Dr. Starobin.

Now it's time to clean and sanitize the machine and the holding bin. Identify in the SOP the type or name of the cleaner and sanitizer that is to be used. Check with your sanitation company to be sure that both the cleaner and the sanitizer are effective at cold temperatures and for your water type. Don't assume that the cleaner or sanitizer that is used in your 3-compartment sink will work well on the lime build up in your frosty cold ice machine.

Clean well under gaskets and use a brush to get into corners, behind flaps, and up into chutes. Pay special attention to the dispensing area, a commonly overlook part of the machine. Dr. Starobin notes that if ice is conveyed from the machine in the back of the house to a holding bin in the front of the house, pay special attention to the tubing as it has been shown to allow the growth of Pseudomonas, a spoilage bacteria known to form biofilms (that lovely pink stuff found often around the edges of the ice bin). If the chute nozzle can be taken apart, remove it and wash it thoroughly in a 3-compartment sink. After cleaning, rinse and sanitize those same surfaces.

The ice-making part of machine is often overlooked during the cleaning process. The machine may have a clean-in-place (CIP) – or automatic cleaning system – which leads some to believe that no manual cleaning needs to take place. Be wary of complacency with CIP systems, warns Dr. Starobin. They are perfectly acceptable for daily cleaning of the ice making machinery, but you will still need to take the machine apart to clean the inside splash zones. Again, use the right cleaner and sanitizer for your machine and consider using scrub pads and brushes to get into hard-to-reach areas. Wash, rinse and then sanitize these areas external to the CIP system on a regular basis.

Note these special areas and procedures in your ice machine sanitation SOP so that anyone who cleans the machine is clear on what should be done. However, the most important part of properly cleaning an ice machine is training. Train designated employees on the SOP, pointing out the appropriate tools and chemicals for the task and make sure they know this is part of their job.

A properly and regularly cleaned ice machine will produce safe ice. Employees need to continue its safety by properly transferring the ice during service. Remind them that whatever is true for utensils is true for ice equipment such as bins, totes, scoops and buckets. Set up a schedule to regularly change out scoops and buckets with ones that have been properly cleaned and sanitized. Employees need to handle these items in the same manner as any other utensil. Just as they would store a dish or cup on a shelf away from contamination, so too should they store totes and buckets. Setting these items on the floor or in chemical storage areas are sure ways to contaminate them – and ultimately the ice.

Ice is food and just as with any other food, proper personal hygiene including thorough handwashing and thoughtful cleaning and sanitizing are effective ways to ensure ice does not become contaminated.
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