Ice – More to It Than Meets the Eye

By Cynthia Walker, M.S., R.S., C.I.T.O.

There’s nothing better than a nice big icy drink on a hot day in Florida.  But have you ever really given much thought to the ice itself?  If you haven’t, you should.  Dirty ice is more of a problem than anyone ever suspected – and it makes big news when found to be the culprit in an outbreak.

Recently, many major news networks have done high profile investigative stories about the cleanliness of ice – or lack thereof – in a variety of food industries.  No responsible vendor wants to serve a problem and the impact of such negative publicity goes far beyond dirty ice bins, scaly ice machines or cracked ice scoops – it strikes the heart of public perception of the food industry as a whole.

By definition, ice is “food” – even though it may only be frozen water – and needs every bit as much protection from contamination.  Ice is used to keep foods cold, to help foods cool quickly, but most importantly, ice is used as an ingredient in foods and drinks – so it must be clean, safe, protected from cross contamination and adulteration, from an approved source, and handled properly.

When ice is made onsite, there are a number of food safety items to consider:

  • The water source must be approved and tested (which is especially important if water comes from a well) and delivered through clean, contamination-free lines into clean and maintained ice machines.
  • The ice must be stored covered in a clean bin or other storage container and protected from bare hand contact by employees or, if self-service, dispensed in a safe, protected manner.
  • The ice machine must be located in an enclosed area (new food service establishments).

Since ice is ready-to-eat, it cannot be touched with bare hands unless the establishment has a written, approved Alternative Operating Procedure (AOP).  This plan, accompanied by proper and timely handwashing, helps guard against cross contamination of disease causing organisms from worker’s hands via the ice to the customer.  For more information regarding Alternative Operating Procedures, review the AOP materials available on our Forms and Publications page.

Many options are available to help employees avoid bare hand contact with ice altogether.  Safety scoops are available that block all hand contact and space saving, easily cleanable scoop holders easily attach to the inside or outside of the ice machine to protect the ice scoop when not in use.

Proper ice scoop storage is important – but is often confusing.  Scoops must be protected while being placed for convenient use by employees.  The Food Code allows ice scoops to be stored in a clean, protected location or within the ice bin or ice machine – as long as the handle stays above the top of the ice.

Since water is slightly acidic, over time it tends to cause corrosion or leave lime buildup.  Additionally, wet surfaces need routine maintenance to guard against the growth of slimy molds or mildew – especially in the upper inner workings of the ice machine.  While not disease-causing, these can be unsightly and unattractive – and eventually can cause damage to the equipment if not removed.

Emergency preparedness has emerged as one of the most significant and crucial concerns in recent history.  When a natural disaster strikes, the quality and safety of the water supply – and in turn – the production of safe ice – is often compromised.

Update your disaster plan and learn what to do in an emergency to help protect your equipment, water, ice and other food in the division’s Boil Water Notice Guidelines.  Pay close attention not only to the ice and ice machines, but also to water filters and soda machines that are connected to water lines, and ice buckets and other storage containers that may contact contaminated ice.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reference some easy, but very important steps to take during disaster recovery.  You can find these instructions at the CDC website.

Water related illnesses and contaminants are caused by organisms that spread through water (or ice).  The most recent news centers on E. coli (shiga-toxin producing E. coli) – although there are many, many more bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases transmitted as well as harmful chemical contaminants.

With good planning, you can spend a few minutes that will go a long way:

  • Clean and sanitize all ice buckets, tongs, and other utensils at least every 24 hours
  • Keep all equipment and utensils in good repair – you can’t clean a damaged surface
  • Store all ice handling equipment and utensils in a protected manner
  • Clean ice machines at a frequency and in the manner recommended by the manufacturer – or to eliminate any visible soil or mold
  • Check that all self-service ice dispensing equipment is working properly and the ice is protected during self-service by customers
  • Develop a disaster plan so you can act quickly to disconnect equipment from a compromised water line
  • Know how to disinfect contaminated water lines and ice machines that may be compromised in an emergency
  • Do not allow ill employees to handle ice or contaminate food-contact surfaces

Remember, even if your time is limited, you always have time for food safety.  That way, everybody wins.

Need Help?

All requests for public records, complaints, forms, and applications for licenses can be obtained by contacting the Customer Contact Center.

Steven von Bodungen, Director

Division of Hotels and Restaurants
2601 Blair Stone Road
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1011

Telephone: 850.487.1395