Article contributed by Rada Tarnovsky, Letter Grade Consulting
Believe it or not, the FDA defines ice as “food”. As such, ice contaminated by bacteria, mold and viruses can spread illness just like any other food when handled by staff or consumed by diners.
Ice from contaminated ice machines is one of the most common Health Code violations, a violation that could potentially lead to money fines, violation points, or worse, illness. And what’s the biggest reasons why ice gets contaminated? Improper handling by employees or improperly maintained ice machines. Basically, human error.
Here’s what you can do to make sure your ice machines and ice handling are safe and up to code:
Operators are required by law to keep ice machines clean and sanitized. A dirty ice machine can cost a restaurant $250 in fines and 5 violation points. When 13 points is all you’re allowed to maintain an “A” letter grade, 5 points is a lot to give up.
But aren’t ice machines way too cold for germs to survive?
Apparently not. Scientific research has shown that cold temperatures do not kill bacteria and viruses, they just slow the growth process. It could take weeks or months for a noticeable growth. Ice could smell and taste fine, but still be harboring dangerous bacteria. That’s pretty scary stuff.
Properly cleaning ice machines is not only required by law, it is imperative to the safety of your patrons. Department Of Health inspectors have recently been given screwdrivers as part of their standard equipment. Inspectors are using the screwdrivers to remove paneling off ice machines to search for mildew.
- Do not store anything such as food, drinks, or fruit inside the ice machine. Never use the ice machine as a refrigerator
- Never use “storage ice,” or ice that is used to keep food chilled (oysters, shrimp, etc.), as beverage ice.
- If glass or plastic breaks near the ice machine, empty and dispose of all the ice. Following this, deep clean the ice machine before ice is reloaded.
- Change water filters regularly
- Do not return unused ice to the machine.
- Clean ice machines at least once a week
- For ice makers in high-yeast areas, like breweries or pizzerias, professional cleaning should occur much more often.
- If the room is humid, mold can grow more quickly. Clean more often
- Ice machines need to be regularly taken apart and cleaned with a chemical sanitizer to remove mildew
Besides avoiding fines and points, all hotels, bars, and restaurants, have a responsibility to serve, clean, safe ice, to their patrons. Even if your ice machine is properly maintained, improper handling can cause contamination. Training staff in following protocols is critical to ice safety.
- Wash hands before obtaining ice.
- Do not handle the ice with hands;
- Use scoops, tongs or utensils Sect 81.07 g, NEVER use a glass as a scoop
- Hold ice scoops by their handle without touching other parts
- Store ice scoops outside of the ice maker in a separate holder
- Ice scoops and Holders should be washed & sanitized regularly.
Like food safety, ice safety and maintaining your ice machines should be taken seriously by every food service operator. Following the rules will keep the “A” on your door, ensure the safety of your patrons, and protect your brand.
Rada Tarnovsky is a practicing Attorney, who co-founded Letter Grade Consulting to help food service operators comply with regulations set forth by the NYC Department of Health. Servicing restaurants, hotels, theatres, corporate cafeterias and schools, Letter Grade Consulting provides operators with preemptive solutions, education and training to sustain the highest level of food safety, remain inspection ready and maintain the “A” in the window. Rada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org