Weird Health Stuff: Yes, You Need to Clean Your Ice Machine!

Author: Stanley Hughes

June 26, 2018

When we started chats with our guest author, we were skeptical about having a bartender school us moms on health for our family, but then he asked, “When was the last time you cleaned your ice makers?” We may have blushed a little. When WAS the last time? Have we ever? Are you even supposed to?

Chalk this right up there with all the things we forget to clean on a regular basis like our Keurig or the drain/disposable in our sink. Yuck! But it should be done, and here’s why…


Ice is a very common ingredient which is used in almost every establishment that serves food, from bars, cafeterias, coffee shops, to nursing homes, hospitals and various healthcare facilities.

As we are in the thick of the hot summer months, periodically cleaning and maintaining ice machines becomes even more vital. Ice machines are, more often than not, some of the dirtiest and unsanitary utility pieces in every kitchen, regardless of how much care and effort we put into cleaning them.

Since ice is such an ubiquitous food item, families have to realize the importance of proper maintenance and prevent their ice machines from becoming true health hazards. There are many models available on the market, so you should check some reviews on specialized sites like IceMakerPro and look for an ice maker that has self-cleaning or is “easy to clean“. These cleaning routines are essential both for the functionality of the machine, and the well-being of your family.

Here are a few reasons why it is important to clean ice machines periodically:

FDA Regulations

There is a reason that the FDA regulates ice. The FDA defines ice as food, which is why establishment owners and industry professionals must treat ice with the same importance as they would treat any other perishable food item, like vegetables or fish. Even if a particular establishment respects every single enforced code that deals with safety and sanitation, ice machines still have to be regularly cleaned and sanitized. Which means, households should take note as well.

To ensure efficient operation and the safest conditions possible, ice machines should be cleaned every six months. Apart from the health risks (which we will elaborate on in the next entry), neglecting regular maintenance will lead to these invaders spreading, reducing production output, causing frequent freeze-ups and increasing harvest time. (Editor’s note: ummm gross)

If you are experiencing one or all of the following issue, you need to consider cleaning your ice machine:

  • Slower than average harvest
  • Poor quality ice (either too soft or ridden with visible impurities)
  • The ice pieces are either incomplete or shallow
  • The machine is unable to carry as much ice as the user manual states

Health Risks

There is a common belief circulating that because ice makers are naturally cold, it is virtually impossible for germs and bacteria to grow inside. Unfortunately, germs and bacteria do not work like this. Sadly, this misconception is as nonsensical as it is dangerous because even a mildly dirty ice machine has the potential of infecting an entire office building or household!

Before delving into the health risks of dirty ice machines, let us do a quick rundown of the things that might cause an ice machine to get infected in the first place:

  • Unwashed hands
  • Leaving older ice to sit in the bin and mix with newer ice
  • Not changing the water on a regular basis
  • Dirty water can at times freeze up and then end up as the ice that people are using
  • Dust buildup, especially in crowded, highly circulated establishments, such as bars, restaurant kitchens, office buildings, hospitals and so on and so forth

Here are some of the health risks associated with dirty, unmaintained ice machines:

  • Bacteria ridden ice can develop the E.coli virus.
  • Due to the plastic tubing, and various sugars and other fluids, the tubes can gradually become clogged. Clogged tubes are the perfect medium for pathogens to develop, spread and grow. Upon repeated ingestion, people can get sick with stomach flus and other conditions related to the digestive system.
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid fever
  • A study commissioned and performed by the University of Texas has shown that this bacterium can easily grow even on ice cubes.
  • Hepatitis A
  • Norovirus
  • Shigella
  • Mycobacterium
  • Legionella

But one of the biggest health hazards by far has to be mold. Also known as biofilm, organic growth biological pollution or yeast, this sneaky bacterium can come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. Although mold is not always a product of poor maintenance, and it can grow naturally even if the ice machine is cleaned on a regular basis, it is still a serious health risk.

Moreover, besides representing a health risk themselves, big aggregation of bacteria and molds can lead to the development of biofilms. (Editor’s note: Think the slime that’s in your dog’s water bowl if not washed regularly!) In the simplest terms possible, biofilms are basically collections of microorganisms (usually bacteria) that grow in interdependent matrixes of polymers secreted by bacteria. Once biofilms appear, sanitation and maintenance become even more tricky, and it leads in some cases to the disposal of the ice machine.

In fact, bacteria such as Listeria can be, in some extreme cases, 1,000 times harder to eliminate if it is shielded by a biofilm. Other organisms, such as Pseudomonas, which also grow in biofilms, are capable of contaminating the food, as well as accelerating its spoilage.

Basic cleaning Instructions

Here are some basic cleaning guidelines you should follow to prevent any of the aforementioned scenarios from occurring:

  1. Remove any old ice.
  2. Using a clean cloth dipped in lukewarm water and mild detergent, wipe and rinse the insides of the ice machine thoroughly.
  3. If the machine is water cooled, make sure to sanitize the lines by following the instructions written in the unit’s guidebook.
  4. In case of brown slimes (which is probably yeast), you will need a special sanitizer. Some machines require a specific brand and type so, again, make sure to consult the instructions manual.
  5. If you see any black or pink film, it is probably a sign of mold. Fill a spray, half with water and half with bleach, and spray the entire surface of the machine. After this, rinse all the surfaces with clean, lukewarm water, distilled water and detergent.
  6. Check to see if the filters are dirty. If not, you should change them every six months, just for maintenance.
  7. Check the evaporators for any mineral buildups.
  8. Clean the condenser coils.

Conclusion

More often than not, ice machines are one of the dirtiest utility equipment’s in any location, whether we are talking about a bar, restaurant, hospital or a standard household. Dirty ice machines are huge health hazards, and with summer on its way, cleaning and properly maintaining it becomes even more important! On top off all that, dirty ice machines will function improperly, forcing the owners to spend high amounts of money on repairs. So, go check to see if you need to clean your ice machine.


About the Author

Stanley Hughes is a bartender from Boston, Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition. He has a project called IceMakerPro where he reviews different types of ice machines.

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