Protocols for Hospital Ice and Water Dispenser Usage

Reading Time: 6 minutes Healthcare, Ice Safety

hospital ice machine

Healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) are a leading cause of death and a pressing concern for hospitals and other medical facilities. These types of infections are caused by transmission of bacteria to a patient while he or she is undergoing medical treatment. Recent research indicates that ice machines may be a bacteria transfer point.

There are two ways hospitals, residential nursing homes, and other major healthcare facilities can prevent bacteria transfer from ice makers to patients or staff: frequently and effectively cleaning ice makers and safe ice machine usage protocols. For more information on the cleaning hospital grade ice makers, read Research Indicates Dirty Ice Machines are Risk Factor for Hospital Acquired Infections. For best practices on keeping hospital ice machines clean and bacteria-free, keep reading.

How Are Ice Makers Involved in Rising Infection Rates?

Increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing shortages have created unique challenges for hospitals and healthcare facilities. In addition to these strains, healthcare providers are still dealing with day-to-day viruses, ailments, and health initiatives. One critical pursuit of hospital and other medical facility leadership is to reduce HAI rates. Ice machines are potential transfer sites for harmful pathogens.

Ice makers don’t get dirty on their own. Bacteria is transferred by humans.

However, except in rare cases of contaminated water containing Legionella, ice makers don’t get dirty on their own. Bacteria is transferred to ice machines from improper usage by humans. There are many ways to misuse hospital ice and water dispensers. Proper usage protocols and posted rules can help limit pathogens on ice machines and thus, transfer of such pathogens to patients.

Is Your Hospital Ice Machine as Clean as It Could Be?

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Choosing the Safest Ice Making Equipment

Most nursing stations and hospital cafeterias will have hospital ice chip makers or nugget ice machines and water dispensers. Standard commercial ice machines require a scoop or a push-button/lever system to retrieve ice. Instead, organizations can install touchless ice machines. Hands-free ice and water machines are triggered to dispense by a sensor. No human contact is required. This significantly reduces the risk of contamination, as the majority of germs are transferred when people touch a button or lever during use.

Touchless equipment is particularly valuable for self-serve machines, such as cafeteria ice and water dispensers that patients or visitors can access. While hospitals have more input and insight into how staff follows usage protocols, it’s not possible to monitor how visitors use ice and/or water dispensers in shared common areas. Having hands-free equipment available to non-staff users will help reduce the transfer of bacteria from operation.

Hospital Ice Machine Usage Practices

Empower healthcare workers to reduce possible contamination of hospital ice machines through safe practices:

Ice or Water Dispensing (Non-Touchless)

  • For hospital ice machines that are not touchless, users should sanitize hands or wear clean latex gloves before dispensing ice and/or water. It’s also smart to sanitize hands after using the ice maker.
  • Don’t dump foreign beverages or food into the drip tray – ice and water only. Bacteria can grow in the drip tray from these foreign substances. Then the bacteria can be transferred when dropping ice hits the contamination and splashes.
  • Use single use cups or clean containers. Do not allow used cups or other vessels to touch any surface of the ice machine equipment.

Ice Bin Protocols (Including Scoops and Shovels)

Wet sources, like the inside of an ice bin, are going to grow biofilm (algae), which is not dangerous. Bacteria, which comes from human contamination, is dangerous. Safe practices will minimize contamination of ice bins and machines.

  • Store scoops out of the ice machine and away from the ground or any other sources of contamination. We recommend storing the scoop in a scoop holder on the side of the machine.
  • Store ice shovels outside the ice machine and off the ground.
  • Wear a mask when scooping from a big bin. When someone leans into a large bin to scoop out ice (likely for most people’s arm length), breath, debris on clothing or body, and bodily fluids can contaminate the ice, leaving behind organic matter that turns into slime, mold, or other biofilm growths.
  • Never eat or drink while scooping ice.
  • Always shut the bin door after filling containers.

Ice Transfer Buckets

  • Don’t stack ice transport buckets. Instead, hang buckets to store or place them off the ground on a shelf.
  • Never scoop ice with the bucket. Use a scoop to transfer ice from the bin to the bucket.

Cleaning Hospital Ice Machines

hospital ice chip maker

Ice machines are complex units. Due to the fact that they produce ice, which patients consume, their cleanliness is even more important than other hospital equipment. We highly recommend working with a professional to ensure every ice maker in the facility is cleaned frequently and thoroughly enough to reduce contamination risks. There are cleaning procedures and sanitization devices a professional can recommend to ensure ice makers do not cause any bacteria transmission.

If janitorial or other staff will perform cleanings, these brand-specific cleaning guides offer detailed information on the latest disinfection and sanitization protocols for ice makers:

A minimum of two deep cleanings are recommended each year, but this is a general rule. Most hospital grade ice machines should be cleaned more often due to their exposure to contaminants, and because bacteria pose a greater threat to high-risk patients. Below is a list of daily and weekly cleaning tasks that should be performed in addition to deep cleans.

Frequent Hospital Ice Maker Cleaning

The outside of hospital grade ice makers should be cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized on a regular basis (in addition to deep clean of their interior and exterior components). To help reduce any potential contamination, perform regular cleaning by following the steps below.

  • Mix solution of disinfecting spray and sanitizing spray in spray bottles. Check the cleaning solution label for specific disinfection and sanitization rates, as they are not the same.
  • At least once per week, spray solutions on all areas where beverages could potentially splash, and pour solution into the drip tray to go down the drain.
  • Leave disinfecting solution on for at least 10 minutes, spraying as needed to ensure the surface is wet for the entire time. Then rinse the solution away with water.
  • Next, spray on sanitizing solution, ensure a two-minute wet contact time, and then let it air dry on the machine.
  • Frequently pour bleach down the ice maker drain. This may be needed daily or weekly depending on how well users adhere to the policy of not dumping foreign substances in the drain.

Removing Chlorine

Healthcare organizations typically request carbon-block filters in nugget or Cubelet ice makers (which are sometimes called hospital ice chip makers) and water dispensers. Chlorine adds an undesirable taste to ice or water dispensed by these machines. In cubed ice makers, it’s a non-issue, because chlorine outgasses during the ice-making process and disperses into the ice maker interior to help keep bacteria growth down.

Chlorine serves an important purpose. It helps keep the drain clear of bacteria. Knowing this, most hospital leadership still opt for better tasting, more pure water by removing chlorine. The response, then, should be to invest in more frequent deep cleans, so a professional can remove bacteria that builds up faster.

Invest in Patient Safety

The importance of keeping patients and hospital staff safe can’t be overstated. In the latest study, bacteria was found on 100% of ice machines in healthcare settings. More sanitary ice machine protocols can help relieve that, yet there must be a plan in place for meticulously cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing ice makers. Hospitals and medical offices that subscribe to Easy Ice know their ice maker – and their patients – are in the hands of Ice Machine Experts.

Our subscriptions include ice machines from leading manufacturers, deep cleaning and service, any repairs, and even safe, clean back-up ice should it be necessary. Easy Ice means easy access to all the ice patients and staff need without the hassle of ice machine ownership. Learn more about our hospital ice machines here.

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