Cleaning Your Ice Machine: Vital Elimination of Bacteria and Minerals


[posted March 12, 2012]

Most restaurant and commercial kitchen managers know and understand that a regular cleaning of their ice machine is vital to its long-term functionality and that it helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can make its way into the drinks and food products of your patrons. Over time, cleaning schedules can fall by the wayside because of other concerns. You may be tempted to clean less frequently. In order to understand exactly why you should regularly and thoroughly clean out your ice machine, you should understand what the effects are of not cleaning your ice machine regularly.

Contaminated Ice Affects Patrons

Ice machines that are not cleaned well will transmit biofilms, bacteria and microorganisms, which can become hard to eliminate once they manifest in your machine. These microorganisms are what turn into some of the most dangerous and deadly food-borne illnesses, including E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and more. These bacteria grow within the machine over time if it is not cleaned, and they can come into contact with the ice that is produced. When an unsuspecting waiter or employee puts ice in a glass, they may unknowingly be putting cubes with bacteria into a beverage that your patrons may ingest.

It is important to understand that just because ice is frozen does not mean that bacteria cannot still grow on and within these cubes. There have been incidents all over the United States in which unsuspecting patrons become deathly ill merely because they were given a drink with ice cubes from a bacteria-ridden machine. These incidents could have been prevented easily with thorough, regular cleanings.

Unsanitary Ice Machines Affect Your Machine's Longevity

Though the most serious side-effect of a dirty ice machine is the potential for transmitting bacteria to your patrons, there are still some other ways in which an unsanitary machine can affect your commercial kitchen. When minerals such as lime and calcium build up in your machine, it can actually affect the functionality of your machine. Ice will not grow correctly on an evaporator plate that has minerals adhering to it. Not keeping your machine clean will ultimately reduce the life of your machine as well, which will obviously increase your expenses over time, especially if you need to replace the machine sooner than you would have, if you had kept it clean.

These reasons should be enough to get you cleaning your ice machine or on the phone with a professional ice machine service company. Your first goal should always be to provide safe food for your guests and sanitary conditions throughout your kitchen. Your second goal should be to keep the operational costs of your foodservice business down. Regular cleaning of your ice making equipment will help you achieve both.

Cleaning Your Ice Machine and Keeping It Clean

Cleaning your ice machine should be done regularly; intervals between cleanings can vary based on the type of ice machine that you are using. This should be at the very least every six months. However, every month to two months is highly suggested for peak sanitary conditions. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning your ice making system, using the required or approved types of cleaning products. Don't forget that your ice storage bin or ice dispensing system also needs to be included in the cleaning process. Additionally, sanitize surfaces with a diluted bleach solution at the minimum and rinse all areas and surfaces and flush all water reservoirs and tubing after the cleaning chemicals have done their job. Always dispose of the first batch of ice made after a cleaning, to be sure that no chemical residue makes it to a patron's glass.

Nearly every ice machine manufacturer also recommends that if you live in an area where the mineral content of your water is high, you should install a water filtration system on the water line feeding your ice machine. This will help to ease the growth of bacteria and decrease mineral buildup in your machine. You should still clean your ice machine equipment regularly and you will need to change the water filtration cartridge every six months per the water filter manufacturer's recommendation. However, the good news is that the water filtration system will act as an additional line of defense between contaminants and your customers.

For best results, put an ice machine cleaning schedule in place and post it along with your water filter replacement schedule. Stick to both schedules and your ice machine will be cleaner and last longer, making the ice that you need to satisfy your patrons' desires for cool beverages and keeping your patrons safe at the same time.

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