Ice Germs: Can Ice Cubes Get You Sick?

Reading Time: 6 minutes Ice Machine Cleaning, Ice Safety

Does Ice Carry Germs

dirty ice machine can transport bacteria and viruses under certain conditions. All business that use ice machines should take caution, but healthcare industries must be particularly wary. Patients with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk from a dirty ice machine because they can’t fight these diseases the same as healthy individuals. At Easy Ice, we recommend professional cleaning for any industry and commit to protecting our customers ice supply with biannual cleaning visits on every ice machine we install.

Can Germs Live in Your Ice?

The idea that germs can’t live on ice is a misconception. While there are certainly some germs that can’t survive in a cold environment, there are many other bacteria that can survive on ice.

3 ice cubes

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There are over one trillion species of microbes on Earth, and they are just as diverse as the plants and animals we share the planet with. Studies show that diseases such as E.coli and salmonella can survive in freezing temperatures and are perfectly willing to hitch a ride on an ice cube to infect a host.

dirty ice machine internals

The good news is bacteria and viruses don’t grow and proliferate well on inorganic surfaces, like ice. Ice can act as a transport system when bacteria and viruses are introduced to the ice machine due to improper or unsafe use by staff or customers.

Some of these microbes are very dangerous and pose a major health risk to individuals.

Which Germs Should I Worry About?

When it comes to commercial ice makers, there are a few you should really worry about. They include:

  • Norovirus
  • E.coli
  • Salmonella
  • Hepatitis A
  • Legionnaire’s Disease

These diseases can cause serious health issues if they infect someone. While all industries are susceptible to these diseases, healthcare clinics should be particularly concerned. In 2016, a patient died from Legionnaires disease that stemmed from a dirty ice machine in a hospital.

How to Do I Prevent a Germs in My Ice?

There are some necessary practices you need to perform if you want to protect your patients and staff from infectious viruses and bacteria on ice.

Following Proper Ice Handling Techniques

Your first, and best, line of defense against ice contamination is to make sure your staff is following proper ice safety handling practices. Most infections stem from staff retrieving ice for patients.

If you have an ice machine with a bin, you need to make sure that staff cleans their hands before retrieving ice. In addition, always use a clean ice scoop to retrieve the ice. Never use a cup or glassware. The outside of the glass is not sanitary, and if it touches the ice supply, it can transfer germs from the glass to the ice supply.

When using an ice scoop, make sure to only touch the handle of the scoop. Never touch the shovel end.

Storing the scoop inside the bin runs the risk that the handle will touch the ice supply and possibly contaminate it.

Ice Scoop Care

Ice scoops are the best way to retrieve ice from a bin, but you need to make sure they are clean and sanitary as well.

When storing the scoop, make sure you store it in a clean container outside of the ice bin.

3 ice cubes

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Storing the scoop inside the bin runs the risk that the handle will touch the ice supply and possibly contaminate it.

Make sure to clean the scoop every night with either bleach or a quat-based sanitizer. You can also sanitize the scoop in a commercial dishwasher if your facility has one.

Routine Cleaning

Ice machines require routine cleaning and sanitizing to ensure biofilms don’t grow on the outside or inside of the machine. These biofilms can act as a organic surface for certain diseases to survive.

While we may provide professional cleaning on ice machine, ice machine owners should include light disinfecting of high-use areas as well.

Cleaning the exterior of the ice machine is important because it’s exposed to the environment and the hands of users. If users touch the exterior of the machine, they can easily transfer contaminants to your ice supply when serving.

The inside bin also needs cleaning and sanitizing at least once a week. Mold and slime love a dark, moist environment to proliferate.

Chlorine bleach is a widely used and cost-effective way to disinfect and sanitize your ice machine. The EPA has a list of other approved ice machine cleaners for killing bacteria and viruses.

Below we explain the best way to clean your ice machine:

How Do I Disinfect My Ice Maker’s Exterior?

  • Pre-wash any soiled area with warm water
  • Wipe the area with a solution of 8 oz. of bleach per gallon of water (or other EPA approved cleaner)
  • Let the solution sit for at least 10 minutes
  • Rinse the area thoroughly with water and let air dry

How Do I Sanitize My Ice Maker’s Exterior?

  • To sanitize further, spray the area with a mixture of 2 teaspoons of bleach to one gallon of water
  • Let it air dry

How Do I Disinfect My Ice Bin?

  • Use a spray bottle to saturate the contaminated surfaces
  • Keep the surface wet with disinfectant for at least 10 minutes. This is the minimum “wet contact time”
  • Wipe the areas to remove the debris and make sure to rinse the area well

How Do I Sanitize My Ice Bin?

  • Once you’ve wiped the bin down after disinfecting, reapply the solution to sanitize
  • Leave the mixture to air dry

For more information, check out our Hoshizaki Ice Machine Cleaning Guide and Manitowoc Ice Machine Cleaning Guide.

Professional Cleaning

As much as routine ice machine cleaning by your staff is essential, ice machines also require a professional touch as well.

Many other parts inside an ice machine can attract mold, slime, and other biofilms. These parts are not easy to get to and often require dismantling areas of the ice machine. A qualified ice machine technician is the best person for the job.

Ice machine technicians will ensure that the entire ice machine is cleaned and sanitized using acid-based cleaners that eliminate microbial growth and other biofilms.

At Easy Ice, we perform at least two professional cleanings a year on all our equipment. Not only does this keep equipment efficient and reduce ice maker problems, but it also cleans out any biofilms that might have formed which can attract harmful pathogens.

Ice Does Carry Germs – If You Don’t Take the Proper Precautions

Know that ice does carry germs under certain conditions. Freezing cold won’t stop some nasty germs from infecting your ice supply. They’re tough little buggers, but you can help prevent contamination by practicing proper ice handling techniques and keeping your machine clean and sanitary. Remember, if you’re serving ice, it’s your responsibility to make sure that it’s safe—so make sure you take the proper precautions.

An managed ice machine rental from Easy Ice can help. Not only do we provide top-notch commercial ice machines for a low, monthly cost, but we also include professional cleaning to help reduce the risk of accidental ice contamination. We also provide a range of ice dispensers, like our Hoshizaki DCM-300 ice dispenser, that eliminate the need to scoop ice out of a bin. Dispensers help prevent accidental contaminations by dispensing ice directly into drinkware.

Looking for a new ice dispenser for your business? Contact us today!

As the Co-Founder and COO of Easy Ice, John Mahlmeister has been working in the commercial ice machine industry since 2009. Co-headquartered in Phoenix, AZ and Marquette, MI, Easy Ice is the only national provider of full-service ice machine subscriptions in the industry. Since Easy Ice was founded, the number of ice machines under its management has grown to over 30,000 units across 47 states, with no signs of slowing down.

Our team is available to help you get started today!

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