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R&IEditorial Archives2002 — March 15 — Operations

The New Ice Age
From cubers to carts, proper ice management saves time and labor

When journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C,. belly up to the Alferd Packer bar at The Reliable Source, one of the club’s two on-site eateries, they take for granted the ice clinking in their glasses. But to David King, director of restaurant operations, each batch of ice cubes represents reduced labor and energy costs, improved food safety—and peace of mind.

“We had two 16-year-old machines that would crank out 700 to 800 pounds of ice a day,” King says. “Lunch and dinner business would empty them [of ice], and we’d hope the machines could cycle enough ice to get us through dinner.”

New equipment—a 2,000-pound-capacity ice maker with roof-mounted condenser; a storage bin with gravity-fed chute and dedicated ice transport carts—more than solved King’s ice problems. The price tag for the equipment plus additional plumbing and roof installation ran $15,000.

“Now someone stocking the bar may take three minutes to load ice buckets, compared to 10 minutes with the old scoop system,” King says.

Setting up an ice management system such as King’s usually is low priority for new operators. “They don’t think about ice as food, since they don’t sell it,” says Lois Schneck, director of marketing for an Easton, Penn.-based manufacturer of ice storage and transport equipment. “And because ice is held at 32F or below, operators may mistakenly think it immune from food-safety concerns.”

But rising energy costs, scarcity of labor and repercussions of foodborne illness are making ice management a pressing issue for operators. Ice machines with remote compressors that reduce the load on HVAC systems and elevated ice storage bins with gravity-fed carts that eliminate the need for hauling ice buckets and keeping track of scoops are two components of smart ice management.

High and mighty
At the National Press Club, roof-mounted condensers vent heat to the outside rather than into the space near the ice machine. This arrangement not only saves energy that would be needed to cool the room but trims the amount of ice lost to melting. “We upgraded capacity by 20%,” King says, “but the yield is probably 50% higher due to cooler surroundings and improved efficiency.”

A recent innovation from one manufacturer allows the entire refrigeration system, compressor and condenser, to operate at a remote site.

“Putting both units outside substantially reduces the size of equipment inside an operation,” says Jim Day, foodservice design consultant for Annapolis, Md.-based Next Step Design, who worked with the National Press Club. “What remains is just the ice-making component itself, a much smaller footprint.”

Day also specified ice storage systems with gravity-fed transport carts to clients such as Restaurant Associates and Philadelphia’s Stephen Starr, for his newest concept Pod.

“The first ice in should be the first ice out because that’s the way to handle food, and ice is food,” Day says. “It’s a reliable system that makes a big difference.”

At the National Press Club, the gravity-fed ice-tote system, which shoots ice directly into dedicated cart-mounted buckets, replaces a system of 20-gallon plastic trashcans moved via small utility carts. “In the back of my mind I worried that someone wasn’t using the buckets properly,” King says. “You can’t always be sure that buckets are being run through the pot washer. Now we’ve eliminated that.”

The staff likes the new system. “You don’t have to scoop and carry anymore,” King adds. “There’s no clean up since the ice doesn’t fall on the floor. And stocking the bar with ice takes a third of the time as before.”

National chains such as Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Baja Fresh are among those testing the ice management system. On the Border requested that its preferred 3,200-pound, upright, double-door storage bins be equipped with the gravity-fed tote-carts; Romano’s Macaroni Grill is testing a similar 4,600-pound cart set-up at a unit in Tampa, Fla.

Says Schneck: “They told me that their health inspector asked them: ‘Why isn’t everyone using this?’”

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