Research Indicates Dirty Ice Machines are Risk Factor for Hospital Acquired Infections

Reading Time: 6 minutes Healthcare, Ice Safety

hospital ice maker touchless

Last updated on November 17th, 2022 at 01:26 pm

New research reveals that hospital ice makers are contaminated with pathogens and likely to serve as launch points for bacteria to spread to patients and healthcare providers. The study, titled Hiding in Plain Sight: Contaminated Ice Machines Are a Potential Source for Dissemination of Gram-Negative Bacteria and Candida Species in Healthcare Facilities, tracked both the existence of bacteria and candida as well as the mechanism for how the normal use of ice machines can lead to transfer and dispersal of such dangerous pathogens.

The spread of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens can lead to healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This latest study joins an existing body of research that raises awareness of the risk of hospital acquired infections posed by pathogens found on and transferred by commercial ice machines. Keep reading to learn more about how it happens and what hospitals can do about this issue.

Drain Pan, Splashing, and Transmission

Kanwar et al. took samples from the drain pans and ice and water chutes of 64 ice makers to measure how often and when the machines were contaminated. Ice machines in the study were located in medical units, surgical units, and combined medical and surgical units of hospitals and nursing homes. Of the components tested, gram-negative bacilli and/or Candida spp was found on 100% of the drain pans, over half of the ice and/or water chutes, and 72% of the drain-pan grilles.

Kanwar’s team also observed normal use of the ice machines and conducted simulations to trace how bacteria might spread during regular use. They noted that the ice machines had visible grime and slime layers. They noticed that during normal operation, ice often fell through the grill, resulting in splattering, which could easily contaminate the hands and cups of those using the ice machine. Though the study did not follow the bacteria trail to see how much was transmitted to patients or other end users, the findings indicate that ice machines are a likely transfer source for bacteria.

Prevent Hospital Acquired Infections

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Hospital Acquired Infections

Healthcare acquired infections are also called nosocomial infections, which means they are an infection that is not present at the time of admission and is acquired during the process of receiving care. Nosocomial infections are of such concern to governing bodies that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened the Federal Steering Committee for the Prevention of Health Care-Associated Infections to identify new approaches for prevention of this leading cause of death. The committee states, “At any given time, about one in every 20 hospitalized patients has an HAI, while over one million HAIs occur across health care every year.”

The cost of treating potentially preventable HAIs is $28 billion to $33 billion annually, not to mention the price of human lives lost. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations should prioritize any actions that help reduce nosocomial infection incidences.

Preventing Hospital Acquired Infections

Ice is used in healthcare settings in two primary ways: to create cold compresses for wounds and to deliver soft, chewable ice that patients eat or hospital staff add to their own drinks. With end users including both staff and patients, the importance of mitigating the spread of pathogens to reduce the risk of hospital acquired infections cannot be overstated. With multifunctional, interdepartmental, and 24/7 use, contaminated ice machines and ice chip makers have the potential for wide-ranging bacterial exposure. Dirty ice maker components are known sources of other bacteria related to hospital acquired infections, such as:

  • E. Coli
  • Hepatitis A
  • Norwalk Virus

The Federal Steering Committee has identified and launched numerous endeavors to drive prevention of HAI from the clinical level to hospital administration to government bodies, including funding for research, incentive programs for reducing HAI, enhancing regulations, and much more.

But many of the Committee’s efforts will take time to build momentum, and they don’t answer the question hospital leadership has today: if ice machines are a springboard for bacteria transmission, what do we do about it?

There are several options for reducing or eliminating the contamination of ice machines, which prevents them from being hotbeds for healthcare-associated infections, including:

  • Installing the right type of ice machine
  • Professional cleaning/maintenance of ice machines
  • Special technology to keep ice machines continuously clean
  • Proper ice machine handling protocols (clean hands, only using fresh cups, etc.)

Touchless Ice Makers

Any high-use appliance is a potential site for transferring dangerous pathogens from user to user, and Kanwar’s study proves ice machines are no exception. Touchless ice machines, which dispense ice via the activation of a sensor, are a safer and more sanitary option compared to traditional ice dispensers.

In the study, a concerning factor for spreading bacteria was the splash back from ice falling into the bacteria-infested drain pan. While a touchless ice dispenser may not reduce the splashing issue, it works to prevent the existence of bacteria in the drain pan by eliminating all human contact with the machine.

Easy Ice carries numerous touchless ice makers from top manufacturers like Hoshizaki and Scotsman, and they are a highly recommended solution for healthcare settings due to their easy, more sanitary application.

Clean Ice Machines Reduce the Spread of Bacteria

Ice makers are complex units that can become contaminated with biofilm, grime and limescale in addition to bacteria like the kind found in the study. Leaving the cleaning of hospital ice makers to non-experts, such as the facilities management staff, increases the risk of hospital acquired infections from bacteria spread. Even hiring a refrigeration technician does not guarantee the most through clean. These professionals do not specialize in ice machines but are generalists who work on a variety of units, including air conditioners and dishwashers.

Easy Ice technicians are expertly trained on ice machines; our techs clean, service, and repair ice machines all day every day. They understand all the ways an ice machine can become contaminated. Our Ice Machine Experts adhere to the highest standard of thoroughly descaling, disinfecting, and sanitizing all aspects of the ice making equipment during deep cleans.

At Easy Ice, our subscription model is simple: for a low monthly rate, our customers get access to the ice they need, and we handle the rest, including deep cleaning, repairs, and back-up ice as necessary. Our ice machine’s safety and cleanliness equate to our success, and our healthcare customers appreciate our partnership and our dedication to the highest industry standards that exist.

During our thorough onboarding process, we ascertain whether the ice machine environment will require more than the industry standard biannual cleanings. This is almost always the case for hospital ice makers, which may encounter a greater array of pathogens than the average unit. We then continue to assess the machine’s status in case further solutions are needed. Sometimes this may mean more frequent deep cleans. For some environments, the solution is an ozone machine, which we can install and monitor for our customers.

Ozone Machines for Hospital Ice Makers

Ozone machines are powerful, effective sanitizing devices that can be added to ice machines to maintain their cleanliness. Ozone is a sanitizing gas created by sunlight and lightning. This notably powerful oxidant and virucide sanitizes 3,000 times faster than chlorine. Ozone kills contaminants by destroying the organism’s cell wall via oxidation. The only by-product of this process is oxygen, which disperses into the air.

We may recommend ozone machines to our healthcare customers when various factors are present, including when an ozone machine will be a better solution than frequent deep cleans from a service technician. While contaminants are thoroughly removed during our cleaning process, the ozone machine may be more cost-effective, is not subject to access issues, and is capable of maintaining a consistently sanitized environment.

Ozone devices should be monitored by professionals, as they need to be adjusted for the level of bacteria they encounter or they can damage the ice machine.

Begin Reducing Hospital-Acquired Infection Risk Today

Though ice can carry germs, there are mechanisms for preventing this critical piece of machinery from becoming a transfer point for bacteria that leads to healthcare-acquired infections among your patients. From installing the right hospital ice machine to scheduling and performing regular, extensive cleaning, to handling all servicing and repairs, Easy Ice subscriptions are the clearest course to the ice your patients need without the pathogens and hassle you want to avoid. Trust your patients’ safety to the Ice Machine Experts. Nobody is better equipped to keep your equipment functional, safe and sanitary than Easy Ice – all for a low, monthly fee without surprises. Contact us today to learn more.

Our team is available to help you get started today!

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