NYC Metro Area’s HVACR Blog

Commercial Refrigeration

Bacteria in Ice: Think Your Restaurant’s Ice Is Safe?


Have you been regularly cleaning and servicing your ice machine? If not, you’re putting your customers at risk for illness by ingesting bacteria in ice, and your putting your business in jeopardy as well.

In a 2013 study of ice cleanliness at British food service establishments, 6 out of 10 restaurants were found to be serving their customers bacteria in their ice. In 60 percent of those restaurants, researchers found higher levels of bacteria in the ice than in their toilet water. Experts attributed this finding to the likelihood that the toilets were regularly cleaned, whereas the ice machines were not.

This is not an isolated incident. There’s another 2011 study of Las Vegas food establishments that uncovered alarming results about bacteria in ice as well, including the presence of heterotrophic bacteria that exceeded EPA limits, with more than 72% testing positive for “presumptive coliform bacteria presence.”

Related article: Your Ice Machine: the Most Dangerous Item in Your Restaurant.

Preventing Bacteria In Ice: Basic Cleaning Is NOT Enough!

Cleaning an ice machine is a no brainer, right? Just dump out the ice, wash out the bin, and you’re good to go. NOT QUITE! Bacteria in the ice, as well as viruses, mold, brown slime and mineral scales can build up in places you can’t reach without taking the machine apart.

Ice machine cleaning requires professional know-how, tools and supplies. If you’re trying to do it yourself, you’re risking damage to the machine as well as bacteria in your ice.

Here’s another reason to trust this job to the experts: your ice machine needs maintenance as well as cleaning. To keep it producing ice reliably and at peak capacity, it also needs to be inspected and regularly tuned up by a professional refrigeration service company.

Use this checklist of all the required tasks for proper ice machine cleaning and service to make sure you’re never serving bacteria in your ice. Make sure the refrigeration service company you select is taking care of all these items and using the right cleaning products.

Ice Machine Cleaning and Maintenance Checklist to Prevent Bacteria in Ice

CHECK THE OPERATION OF THE ICE MACHINE, including the following items:

  • The water system pressure.
  • The temperature inside the ice machine.
  • The operation and condition of controls and wiring.
  • Fasteners for corrosion and proper closing.
  • Operation and condition of water sensors, thermistors, water distributor parts, water hoses and water sump or reservoir, bearings, water valve and screen.

CLEAN THE ICE MACHINE, following these steps:

  • Turn off the ice machine and disconnect the power supply.
  • Disconnect the water supply.
  • Get rid of the old ice and drain out the water.
  • Disassemble the unit, so all parts that can harbor bacteria in the ice are accessible.
  • Look for any scale, mold or slime on all parts that come into contact with water.
  • Clean all parts using the right type of cleaning solution for your ice machine. Cube ice machines with nickel-plated evaporators require special nickel-safe cleaners to avoid damaging parts. Other types of machines require a mild phosphoric acid solution.
  • Remember to remove calcium, lime and iron buildup on evaporator plates that can impede heat transfer and cause malfunction of your ice machine.
  • Flush out your ice machine’s water system, then remove any contaminants by circulating cleaning solution through the system.
  • IMPORTANT: Take out all removable parts and scrub them with a brush and cleaning solution that removes mold and mineral scale. On rubber parts like gaskets and O rings, use a soft cloth to prevent damage to sensitive parts. (Nugget and flaker ice machines have more moving parts, so be sure you get to all of these.)
  • Pressure clean the storage bin drain.
  • Using a non-corrosive cleaner and brush, clean the condenser coil to remove accumulated grease and dirt. This step in important not only for preventing bacteria in your ice, but also to keep your ice production at peak capacity.

SANITIZE THE MACHINE, following these steps:

  • Even after everything has been cleaned, all parts that touch water or ice have to be sanitized with commercial solution or bleach. This process kills any remaining microorganisms.
  • Thoroughly rinse everything with water and air dry.
  • DON’T SKIP THIS: Thoroughly wash your hands before handling sanitized parts!

REPLACE FILTERS when needed:

  • Inspect and replace air and water filters if necessary (at least every 6 months).
  • Wipe down the exterior.
  • Clear the area around the ice machine (remove boxes, supplies, and equipment that is too close) so it gets sufficient air flow.

RESTART the ice machine:

  • Reassemble and reconnect the water supply.
  • Adjust the ice level sensor as needed.
  • Run two complete ice making cycles and check the freezing and harvest times.
  • THROW OUT the first batch of ice in case there is any cleaning solution residue.

Proper Ice Machine Cleaning: It’s the Law

Keeping your ice machine clean and your ice safe for customers is required by federal law to prevent bacteria in ice from making people sick. If you’re found to be in violation, you could be hit with fines of up to $500,000.

Don’t let this happen to your business! Choose an experienced refrigeration service company to clean your ice machine the right way to prevent bacteria in your ice. Even better, invest in a refrigeration maintenance plan so you won’t forget to take care of your ice machine and all your refrigeration equipment. When it’s done along with preventative refrigeration service, ice machine cleaning costs you less.

Now isn’t that better than worrying about being the subject of one of those studies of restaurants serving customers bacteria in their ice? Or worrying about losing your NYC health grade and even being shut down.

Related article: How to Clean Up Your Commercial Refrigeration and Nail that ‘A’ Grade

Are you concerned that a refrigeration service plan is too expensive? You should know that a good service provider can customize the plan for your budget as well as the needs of your business. To learn more, grab a copy of our free guide to Refrigeration Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your Food Service Operation.

Get Your Free Guide to Refrigeration Maintenance Contracts, Today!