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Frozen Food Safety --Your Ice Supply

There’s no better time to talk about ice than in the summer months. Did you know that in every food code in the U.S. and Canada, ice is defined as a “food”? That means the water used to make the ice must be from a safe source and the bagged ice manufacturing company must follow good manufacturing practices, packaging and storage procedures. If you make your own ice, your machine must be properly maintained and sanitary. You must also transport, store, dispense, or handle ice with the utmost care to prevent contamination of that final frozen condiment.

Can ice make us sick? Yup! The majority of the consuming public does not realize that you can get very sick from contaminated ice. As we know, ice is “frozen water”, but just because it is a frozen food, that doesn’t mean it cannot contain harmful bacteria or viruses. In fact, in at the University of Texas, Salmonella, E. coli, and Shigella all survived in a study of ice cubes mixed with a cola drink, scotch and water, or 85 proof tequila! Viruses also survive in ice cubes, so our foodborne illness leader, the noroviruses, can wreak havoc in the frozen crystals. In 1987, 5,000 people fell ill after consuming contaminated ice in soft drink and alcoholic beverages in an outbreak in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Norovirus was the culprit. Mishandling ice is a common source of contamination. Recorded outbreaks traced back to infected food workers have included typhoid fever, Salmonella, Hepatitis A, and E. coli 0157:H7.

How safe is the ice we consume? According to the International Packaged Ice Association (IPIA), in commercial ice plants, ice is generated in large capacity machines that package the ice automatically so there is no human contact. However, 50-75% of the packaged ice sold in the U.S. and Canada is produced in convenience stores, supermarkets, gas stations, liquor stores, and other retail outlets, not to mention the millions of pounds of ice consumed daily from ice machines in restaurants, hospitals, and hotels, etc. Many of these on-premise operations receive no oversight from local health inspection.

Even when ice machines are inspected, it is often found these machines are not cleaned and sanitized very often, if ever in some cases. Mold and slime build up inside them, allowing bacteria to grow and contaminate the ice product. Study after study shows that “dirty ice” is more common than you might think. A California report noted of 10 ice machines, almost half had an unacceptable level of contamination. In 2002, the University of South Florida surveyed convenience store on-premises ice machines and found 36 % of packaged ice produced comes from water that did not meet EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) drinking water standards.

Clean, risk-free ice – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends ice machines be cleaned and sanitized once a week. The IPIA stresses separate, controlled packaging areas and correct labeling if selling retail ice. As for food service, here’s some additional recommendations for safer ice:

  • Wash your hands prior to doing any tasks to handle ice. This includes a 20 second hand wash with soap and water after using the restroom, sneezing or coughing, handling other foods, doing cleaning tasks, or contaminating hands in any way.
  • Ice machines must also be delimed and perhaps professionally cleaned a few times a year. Potable water that is properly filtered at the inlet to the ice machine will keep your machine cleaner.
  • Never nest multiple ice buckets. Transfer buckets should be stored inverted in a sanitary area. At the ice machine, store large ice scoops in a sanitary receptacle on the outside of the machine. Ice scoops should be made of metal or plastic.
  • At the dispensing ice bin, clean and sanitize the ice bin daily and store the ice scoop in the ice with the handle up or on a clean, dry surface. Shut the cover on the bin while not in use. Never use a breakable glass as an ice scoop.
  • If you fill a hopper for automatic dispensing to customers, clean and sanitize the hopper daily and keep it properly covered.
  • Ice machines and bins must never be directly plumbed to the sewer system. There must be an “air gap” on the drain of the machine or bin. That way, the sewer system can never back up into your ice storage units.
  • If using ice for chilling sealed containers of food or beverages, do not use that ice again for human consumption in drinks.

    Bottom Line ice safety: Clean that machine! Ice is a “ready-to-eat” food, so in addition, food workers should not handle ice with bare hands, but must always use a sanitary ice scoop, tongs, or gloves for an extra level of protection.

    `Til next time,

    Lacie Thrall
    Safety Management Services
    FoodHandler Inc.

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