Recent reports released by ice machine manufacturer Ice-O-Matic showed that almost 40% of operators acknowledge that they were unaware of how often the ice-machine and especially the water filters needed to be cleaned. This showed that this area is often a neglected place. Not only this, but also that operators were unaware that bacteria were able to survive in ice.

Can Bacteria Really Live in Ice?

Simply put, yes, bacteria that can cause serious harm to humans are able to survive in ice cubes. Common misconceptions are that ice is too cold to harbour bacteria.

Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes are even able to survive in ice-cream, as was the case in an ongoing outbreak in the US involving blue bell ice-cream. 

Unwelcome cases of cholera, Salmonella, E.coli, and Norovirus plus many other illnesses could occur from ingesting dirty ice.

The possible presence of bacteria is why regular cleaning of ice machines is essential.

How Often Should an Ice Machine Be Cleaned?

sick from contaminated ice

Businesses may start out with good intentions but they can easily fall by the wayside with regards to cleaning and maintenance once things get busy or at the end of a long service.

There’s varying advice on the frequency that a commercial ice machine should be cleaned. This does depend on the frequency of use and water condition in each circumstance.

Manufacturers do recommend cleaning on a quarterly basis. However this is what is called the deep clean.

Weekly cleaning by staff of the visible interior should take place when the machine is empty.

Remember that it’s not just about waging war against bacteria but also eliminating any build-up of harmful slime or mould that naturally occurs when air is drawn into the equipment during operation.

Never wait for negative signals such as soft, malformed, cloudy cubes or a distinct aroma before cleaning. If any of these occur it will generally mean cleaning is already overdue. Stick to a strict timetable to remain proactive rather than reactive.

What About The Ice-scoop?

sick from contaminated ice

Preventing contamination from outside the machine is also an important consideration. A suitable dedicated ice-scoop should be kept in a mild-sanitiser (never chlorine-based) or at the very least away from potential cross-contamination. This means one should never leave the scoop in the ice.

Your hands should never come into contact with the ice, especially if not clean. There is always a high-risk of glass being broken into the machine, and due to the translucency, you would never to able to see it. Therefore plates, bowls and glass should never be uses to scoop ice.

Catch up on our article on hygiene risks in the bar here. 

How to Clean an Ice Machine

Manufacturers always include cleaning instructions and recommendations with every piece of equipment, highlighting the importance of keeping ice makers clean.

The following is intended as a guide only; manufacturers cleaning instructions will always supersede.

  • Completely empty the machine and throw away any ice.
  • Never reintroduce any ice that has been removed, even after cleaning is complete.
  • If equipment has a cleaning cycle, run it now.
  • Turn off the ice machine.
  • Take out all components that can possibly be removed.
  • Clean all interior and exterior surfaces including bins with sanitiser.
  • A descaling chemical is also recommended.
  • Follow the instructions on the bottle for the permitted amount to water ratio.
  • Never use chemicals that could contaminate ice.
  • Rinse and dry all surfaces thoroughly.
  • Remember to pay attention to the drainage system; anywhere there’s water there’s a potential for bacteria build-up.
  • Clean all components including scoops etc. in sanitiser.
  • Alternatively run pieces through the commercial dishwasher for cleaning at hotter temperatures (commercial dish washers must complete a final rinse at a minimum of 80°C).
  • While cold doesn’t kill bacteria, heat will.
  • Clean the condenser air filter removing any dust or dirt build-up. It makes sense to carry out a little maintenance whilst doing the cleaning.
  • Reassemble all components and switch on the machine to create a fresh batch of ice ready for the next day.

What are the food safety pillars?