Web Exclusive: Ice Machine Or Toxic Breeding Ground?

By Mark Masterson

Ice machines appear benign as they sit in restaurants. Perhaps there is a large machine in the back and a smaller one up front for the servers. Have you looked inside yours lately? You may not realize the dangers that can lurk inside your friendly Hoshizaki or Scotsman.commercial ice machines

Most people don’t think that the ice they serve to their customers can transmit disease. They are wrong. Ice is governed in the same way that the chicken in the refrigerator is — it is subject to rules, regulations, and best practices that keep everyone safe.

“Oh, but it’s just ice,” one might say. That ice can kill just like spoiled chicken can. If commercial ice machines aren’t regularly emptied and cleaned, biofilm can form and turn the bin into a low-tech bio-breeding ground. Just read these news stories: 1 boy dead, 80 sick from Norovirus; Hold the Ice; Ice Machine Source of Legionnaires’ Disease.

There are several ice machine manufacturers who have put antimicrobial coatings in their equipment and bins, but this does not provide a substitute for regular thorough cleaning of the film which might form. The likelihood that someone will get sick from ice reduces with regular bin cleaning, proper hand washing, and correct ice handling procedures.

Here are some best practices for employees and ice handling:
Don’t put bare hands into the ice machine, as bacteria can thrive in the cold environment. Microorganisms can be passed from the hands into the ice bin. Once a batch is contaminated, the whole thing must be tossed.

Keep the ice scoop outside of the bin in a separate container. Keeping it inside the bin can contaminate the ice from touching it. Also, someone might try to unbury a scoop with their hands.

Have operators touch only the handle of the scoop that they’re using to get the ice; else there’s the chance of infecting the bin.

Ice is considered to be food by health inspectors. The same food handling techniques should be used for it as are used for, say, chicken. This means that hands should be thoroughly washed before going near the ice.

There are also things which can be done to clean the machine properly to prevent illnesses and bacteria from being spread.
Clean out the inside of the bin at least every two months, sooner if possible. Remove all of the ice from the bin, then use a scale remover to get rid of the scale which has formed inside.

Once the bin has been cleaned out and scale is removed, apply a sanitizer to the inside of the bin to make sure that any residual bacteria are eliminated.

Run the cleaning cycle of your machine as often as your manual recommends. While this doesn’t eliminate the problem of bacteria, it does make your ice taste a little better in the process.

Replace your water filters according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The water filter helps to remove impurities in the water as well as fight potential contamination. Plus, an old filter can even reintroduce contamination.

Get an antimicrobial light for the inside of your ice machine bin. This device makes it inhospitable for the microbes and bacteria to thrive.

While it is not feasible for larger enterprises, switch out the ice machine to an ice machine and dispenser. This offers a touch-free option for getting ice.

Restaurant patrons should enjoy eating the ice rather than be concerned about their health. When was the last time that you cleaned and sanitized your ice machine? Take a look in there with a good light right now and see if there is any discoloration, slime, or odor.

Masterson is from IceMachinesPlus.com with over 10 years of experience in the restaurant and bar industry. He is focused on providing quality information and advice to managers and contractors about the best practices on choosing the right type of ice machine.


  1. We have an ice machine in my restaurant. We try to clean it as much as possible. I had no idea that it can have so many dangers! Thank you for your help.

  2. It is great to be aware of so many different ways to keep ice machines clean. Disease can spread fast in the workplace. Our ice machine broke a little bit ago, and it is something the entire company uses. If we did not have routine maintenance and cleanliness with it, then it could easily spread germs. However, since we were able to fix the machine quickly using healthy prevention we now are able to keep it running again with out spreading disease.

  3. Mark, it’s important that if you own a restaurant and use a commercial ice machine that you know how to clean it properly. I have worked in fast food and they must be cleaned frequently to make sure to avoid bacteria growth. I like your suggestion for not using bare hands in the ice machine. That can often be one of the main sources of bacteria.

Comments are closed.