The Dirty Secrets That Could Be Lurking in Your Ice Machine

ice machines cubes handling ice storage bin lurking

Article contributed by Easy Ice

The cold, icy interior of an ice machine doesn’t seem like the ideal place to make a home, but all kinds of bacteria, toxins, grime, and creepy crawlies are cleaned out of ice machines every day. Should any of these pests decide to make a home in your ice machine, it’s a health violation waiting to happen. 

In this article, we’ll share five different creatures and toxins that could be lurking in your ice machine, and how you can prevent them from causing problems. 

Mold and Slime

Mold and slime need two things to flourish: moisture and a food source. Ice machines provide the moisture, but it’s your kitchen that delivers the food. Anytime your staff cooks or bakes, trace amounts of grease, sugars, and yeast enter the air. Eventually, these particles end up in your ice machine and become food for mold and slime.

Mold is easy to identify. It comes in the form of black patches. Slime has a pinkish color typically, but if left untreated it can turn green, brown, or black. 

It is possible for mold or slime to grow in your ice machine’s drop zone and fall into your ice supply. While mold and slime aren’t particularly harmful to people, it is gross if they end up in your drink. Significant mold and slime growth will cause a health inspector to write you a violation, which could cost you business if your scorecard is posted publicly (which most municipalities do). 

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The best way to prevent excessive mold and slime in your ice machine is to make sure to keep up on cleanings. Two cleanings a year should be the absolute minimum, but for environments where dust, yeast, flour or other airborne particulates are present, you should consider more frequent cleanings.

Ozone is an all-natural, FDA approved sanitizer that significantly limits the spread of mold and slime in ice machines. We’ve tested ozone generators in some of the most challenging kitchen environments where significant mold and slime growth occurred within three weeks. After installing an ozone generator, that same ice machine stayed clean for over 15 weeks!

Fecal Matter

Staff can transfer fecal matter to an ice supply if they forget to wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom or taking out the garbage. Fecal matter is not only gross, but it can also cause foodborne illness as well if it ends up in your ice supply.

The best way to prevent contamination of your ice supply (as well as your whole restaurant) is to maintain a strict policy that all employees wash their hands thoroughly after using restroom facilities, or anytime they touch a trash container. Employees should always use soap and water and scrub their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Proper ice handling is another way to guarantee your ice supply isn’t contaminated. Make sure to always handle ice with an ice scoop and never use your hands or used glassware to retrieve ice. Also, make sure to clean the ice scoop every night. Bleach or a quat-based cleaner work just fine, but you can place your ice scoop in the dishwasher as well.

Dust and Dirt

Dust and dirt are not only gross, but they can end up affecting your ice machine’s performance as well.

Air-cooled ice machines (the most common type of ice machine) use a fan to draw in the surrounding air to assist in cooling the condenser down. Any air that gets pulled into the machine brings dust and dirt along with it.

Air-cooled ice machines have an air filter to trap incoming particulates – but they’re not 100% effective.  Air filters require regular weekly cleanings, or they can clog. Even if when you do keep a clean air filter, trace amounts of dust and dirt will inevitably find their way into your ice machine, so you still need a deep cleaning at least every six months.

If ice machines don’t get proper cleanings, dirt and dust accumulate in your ice machine and stick to the unit’s condenser, forming a cover. That cover insulates and retains any heat that the ice machine produces. 

When an ice machine can’t release heat effectively, it will cause your ice machine to produce less ice. On top of that, the other components in your ice machine must work harder to produce a batch of ice, increasing wear and tear over time. Neglect cleaning your ice machine for too long and components will eventually break down, requiring costly repairs. 

Salmonella, Norovirus, and E. coli

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Many people believe that the freezing cold temperatures in ice machines will kill off any bacteria or viruses that enter your ice bin. Unfortunately, unwanted microbes can be tough little buggers. 

Much like mold and slime, when you neglect cleaning your ice machine, many potentially dangerous germs such as Salmonella, Norovirus, and E. coli can end up infecting your ice supply and possibly get a customer sick. 

These types of microbes present more of a danger to customers than mold or slime. All three of these can cause serious digestive problems (Norovirus can even be fatal).

Cleaning your ice machine regularly and making sure not to store food or bottles in your ice bin is the best way to prevent harmful microbes from polluting your ice supply. Make sure to clean the exterior of your ice bin at least every month with a quat-based cleaner or detergent. Schedule a professional cleaning for your ice machine at least every six months.

Ozone dispersing generators have also been found to be quite effective at preventing the spread of dangerous organisms in an ice machine. 

Cockroaches and Other Critters

Yes, cockroaches and other pests will make a nest in your ice machine if you’re not careful.

All kinds of creatures like cockroaches, ants, and even rats like dark, enclosed, moist environments and ice machines check all those boxes. Although most pests generally don’t prefer the cold, there are plenty of areas within your ice machine, such as the compressor and condenser housings that can reach temperatures of up to 90 degrees. 

Like any area of a restaurant that is prone to infestation, the presence of cockroaches and the like are due to overall kitchen cleanliness. Unclean floors, unsealed food, and dirty dishes are common attractions for those little scavengers, and they’ll crawl right through a drain or water pipe to get to them. Once pests realize they have access to a source of food, they’ll look for a home nearby. Regularly cleaning your kitchen and staying within health inspection guidelines is the best way to prevent cockroaches and other critters from making a nest in your ice machine or anywhere else in your establishment. 

If cockroaches or any other creature end up in your ice machine, it’s a real headache to get rid of them. You’ll first want to immediately shut off your ice machine and call an exterminator, which means you’ll have to purchase ice until the exterminator arrives. 

Once the exterminator has sprayed your ice machine, you’ll have to call a professional cleaning service to perform a deep cleaning on the unit before you can use it again. That means more replacement ice until a technician makes his way to your establishment. 

It can take weeks and hundreds to thousands of dollars to get rid of roaches and get your machine to operating condition.

Cleaning is the Key

Any of the creatures or crud we’ve mentioned above will land you in trouble with a health inspector. Even worse, if a customer does get sick from a dirty ice machine, the word can travel fast on social media that you are running an unclean facility. Ice machines are one appliance you should not neglect. Routine cleaning is an absolute must if you want to maintain a clean supply of ice for your guests.

If you don’t have the time to clean the ice machine, call a good ice machine cleaning service to come by every six months – your customers will thank you for killing what was lurking in your ice machine.