Cool, Clean and Collected
Proper ice-machine maintenance saves operators money and time.
Most manufacturers agree that regular maintenance is the most vital component of ice-machine sanitation.
While food safety tops the list of concerns in most kitchens, rarely does an operator equate sanitation problems with ice machines. Though recent advances in ice-machine design reduce potential sanitation problems, attentive maintenance and cleaning can save foodservice operators money, time and a bin full of slime.
The slippery film that forms over ice cubes is a sign of bacteria growth, says Michael Rice, product marketing manager for an Easton, Pa.-based ice-machine manufacturer. “Slime has to do in large measure with how much the system has been exposed to air,” he explains. “The other side to preventing bacteria growth is whether the sanitization process is performed on a regular basis.”
Some ice machines have been updated to eliminate air exposure by sealing the water reservoir, a place most susceptible to bacteria. Rice says that absent such a feature, machines are made with materials containing antimicrobial chemicals.
Along with design improvements are features that make ice makers easier to sanitize. Self-cleaning machines, Rice explains, use an acid-based cleaner and sanitizer that work through the system at the push of a button; it’s no longer necessary to disassemble equipment to clean pieces by hand.
Water filtration is a common defense against mineral build-up as well as a mechanism for providing cleaner, better-tasting ice cubes.
“I always suggest that an operator ask an ice-maker manufacturer for the specific filter treatment it recommends for a machine and the restaurant’s location,” says Paul Stasik, foodservice supply chain manager for Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America, a chain of highway facilities containing convenience stores and food courts.
Percent of commercial-sector foodservice operators who say they plan to purchase refrigeration/ice-machine equipment in 2005, while 8% of noncommercial operators say they plan to do so.
(Foodservice Equipment & Supplies 2005 Operator Industry Forecast)
Water conditions vary from state to state, he says, making appropriate filtration—which involves removing minerals from water before it begins the freezing cycle—the last line of defense against bacteria growth. “Some operators take the shortcut and don’t pay extra for a filtration system,” Stasik says. “You pay for it in the long run with safety problems and a shortened life for the ice maker. It’s a matter of accepting up-front costs to prevent a liability situation in the long term.”
Most manufacturers agree that regular maintenance is the most vital component of ice-machine sanitation. Recommended cleaning schedules vary among manufacturers, often depending on model and design, though many advise cleaning equipment every three to six months.
“Generally you’re looking for scale build-up or bacteria,” says Mike Rimrodt, product manufacturer for a Manitowoc, Wis.-based manufacturer. “It’s good to regularly inspect machines and clean them so problems don’t get to the point where it’s too late.” Regular cleanings prolong an ice machine’s life and allow for maximum production, he adds. Many newer machines are designed to make cleaning less arduous and require less employee training.
Filters are important elements in keeping water in ice machines sanitary, though what’s good for Oklahoma may not be good for Oregon.
“Filtering water properly is a huge issue,” says Mickey Gardner, national account manager for a Peachtree City, Ga.-based manufacturer. “If you use the wrong filter you’ll take out chlorine and lose the protection in your machine.”
Chlorine added to water prevents lime build-up, slime production and fungus growth in a machine. Using filters containing carbon blocks, Gardner says, presents problems. “If you filter out the chlorine, you have that much less ability to control fungus and slime,” he says. “You do not want to filter out chlorine when making ice.”
Gardner suggests installing carbon blocks in dispensing systems that use water but keeping them separate from ice machines. Paul Stasik, foodservice supply chain manager for TravelCenters of America, says that with its locations in 42 states, he has learned to check county water records for the status of each market’s water. “Then I ask the manufacturer what kind of filter works best for machines [in that area],” he says.