I’ll give you fair warning, talking about contaminated ice isn’t a pretty subject. There’s a reason why health inspectors check for microbial contamination in your ice bin on each visit. Between the risk of bacteria, mold and even blood (yes, blood), the ice you’re serving to guests is not only disgusting, but downright dangerous to their health. Clear visible signs of contaminated ice include a buildup of mold or slime inside of the machine or a distinctive odor from the ice itself.
12-year-old Jasmine Roberts didn’t expect her award-winning science project to go viral when she discovered that 70% of the time ice from fast food restaurants was dirtier than toilet water (and in many cases, tested positive for E. coli bacteria). Unsurprising, when many restaurants do not even clean their ice bin, and might only clean it once or twice a year.
Though ice may be contaminated by the water itself (which is why regularly changing your water filter is so important), the biggest risk for contamination lies with you and your staff. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code defines ice as “food,” it’s subject to the same handling and cleanliness standards as everything else. Here are three simple (and easy) ways to keep your ice free and clear and safe to consume:
1. Wash hands
As customers we’ve seen the signs posted in the restrooms, as staff we’ve seen them in the kitchen. Washing your hands remains the #1 way to reduce the spread of bacteria. Teach your employees to wash their hands before reaching for the ice. Ingrain it into them (and be sure to lead by example). It should become so much of a routine that you can be on autopilot.
2. Use the scoop
How many times have you seen a pint glass in the ice bin? Not only does using a glass or plastic cup often puts the hand into direct contact with the ice, but they also house bacteria as well. Another risk? Breakage. Glasses chip quite easily (particularly those cheap pint glasses). Finding glass in an ice bin is like finding a rock in a gravel pit—good luck. Not only can an employee easily cut him or herself on that ice (here comes the blood), but glass can also make it into the customer’s drink. It’s really a lose-lose. Eliminate this risk altogether and use an ice scoop each and every time, like this one from San Jamar.
3. Don’t return unused ice to the bin
I wish I could say this never happens. I also wish I could say unicorns are real.
Both would in fact, be lies.
Don’t think you can give your water bill a break by repurposing unused ice and storing it back in the ice bin. Once ice is removed from the ice bin it has been exposed to a host of contaminants, and it brings all of those contaminants right back to your perfectly fine unused ice. Ice bins should be a one-way street—things come out, but nothing goes back in.