Working in a restaurant kitchen exposes chefs to a variety of cuisines. While the utmost food safety standards are held in place for most kitchen practices, the ice bin is often overlooked. It is too often I've witnessed first hand, staff scooping out ice from an ice bin and tossing the scoop into the bin when they are done. Confused? I consider ice to be the same as ‘food’, and your staff should do the same.
FoodSafety Magazine describes the beginning of ice as a food safety hazard:
Sixty years ago, an article on the sanitation of crushed ice was published in theJournal of the American Medical Association. The authors commented that an investigation of crushed ice revealed heavy contamination with coliform organisms. They opined that the contaminants can be introduced into crushed ice in many ways, chiefly by dust from the floors of freezing rooms, trucks and restaurants as well as by reusing soiled containers and through human hand contact. Of these, it was no small wonder that handling during dispensing was found to be the most prolific source.
In the following 15 years, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced different gastrointestinal illnesses such as the norovirus back to the contaminated ice. While many see ice as safe (after all, it falls well within the temperatures of ‘safety zone’), ice machines themselves are prone to microbial contamination that can easily transfer to the ice itself. There are many ways that otherwise safe ice could become contaminated:
Water Source: Your ice machine may be clean, but if the source of water that supplies it is filtered through dirty plumbing, then your ice will be comprised of dirty water! Ensure that water filters are changed or cleaned regularly as well.
Storage Bin: There are many nooks and crannies in an ice machine, and the storage bin itself can become a host for a microbial party. Regularly remove all ice from the bin and allow to dry. Sanitize the interior and exterior. Shine a bright light inside the machine to visually inspect the corners, upper surfaces, and difficult-to-see areas. Look to see if there is residual soil or contamination. If there is, repeat the cleaning process.
Transportation: This includes scoops, bins, and the like. Anything used to transport the ice can carry with it contaminators, so always sanitize these items and keep them up and off of the floor. Use a dedicated scoop caddy instead of placing the scoop back into the ice bin. Wash, rinse, and sanitize scoops every four hours. Dispose of any chipped, cracked, or broken transport devices.
Handling: Employees are able to introduce contaminators into the ice bin, so be sure to post guidelines and train staff on proper handling procedures. QSR Magazine recommends these guidelines:
Wash hands properly:
Wet hands with warm water and apply soap.
Rub hands together vigorously for 15–20 seconds, covering all surfaces including the fingers.
Rinse hands with warm water.
Thoroughly dry with a disposable towel or air blower.
Use a towel to turn off the faucet
Put on gloves before removing ice from an ice machine or ice bins.
If any contaminants such as broken glass or food items fall into the ice bin, it’s time to empty and dispose of all ice in that bin completely. Better to be safe than sorry! Also, if ice melts prematurely, don’t attempt to refreeze it for use. Simply throw it out.
E Friedman Associates Inc