Dirty ice is being served at almost one in three pubs, restaurants and coffee shops, putting customers’ health at
risk, a study suggests. Bacteria found on hands, including some associated with failing to wash properly after
visiting the toilet, have been found by experts from the Health Protection Agency.
Tests on ice, ice machines and utensils carried out at 88 establishments found that 30 per cent showed evidence
of poor hygiene. Details were published after a recent report revealed that the number of people experiencing
tummy upsets has surged by 50 per cent compared with the 1990s.
Some 17million cases occur each year, caused by a variety of sources, leading to 11million lost working days.
The major problem with ice involved a failure to clean machines and scoops used by staff to fill glasses and
cups. The HPA said: ‘Thirty per cent – 42 – of the ice samples were found to have unsatisfactory levels of
coliform bacteria. ‘Of these, three samples were also found to have unsatisfactory levels of Enterococci and one
sample had an unsatisfactory level of E.coli. ‘Both Enterococci and E.coli can be found in the gastrointestinal
tract of humans and animals and may be an indication of faecal contamination.’
Tests were carried out at businesses across Yorkshire and the Humber region and in the East Midlands.
The pattern of contamination is likely to be typical for the entire hospitality industry.
Research in the U.S. has also found that ice machines in fast-food restaurants and cafes used by customers,
rather than those operated by staff, are particularly likely to be contaminated.
The HPA said: ‘Poor hygiene practices when preparing ice could create the opportunity for harmful bacteria to
contaminate our food and drinks.’
Judith Tapper, of the HPA’s Food, Water and Environmental laboratory in Leeds, said: ‘The main way to
ensure that ice is fit to use in food and drink is to ensure that it comes from a safe drinking water source and
that all machines and utensils or scoops are cleaned thoroughly and regularly.
‘Proprietors should also ensure that ice water is fresh and not left in machines or buckets for long periods of
time. We should remember that water can become stagnant after a while and the same applies to ice.
‘Half of swabs taken from inside ice machines or ice scoops were also considered unsatisfactory when tested.’
Dr John Piggott, manager of the HPA laboratory, said: ‘The results could be an indication that businesses aren’t
using the same good practices when preparing ice that they are using when preparing other food and drink.
‘As ice is essentially water, some may have the misconception that strict cleaning procedures do not need to be
applied to ice-making equipment, but our study shows this is not the case.’
PEOPLE REALLY DO GET ILL
In one incident alone, over 5,000 people fell ill from the norovirus after consuming contaminated ice. Just
because ice is frozen, doesn’t mean it cannot contain harmful bacteria or viruses. You can get very sick from
contaminated ice. In fact, at the University of Texas, Salmonella, E. coli, and Shigella all survived in a study of
ice cubes mixed with a cola drink, scotch and water, or 85 proof tequila! Viruses also survive in ice cubes, so
our food borne illness leader, the noroviruses (the famous Norwalk virus), can wreak havoc in the frozen
Samples from nearly 50 restaurants and hotel bars in Chicago (Dec 2007), found nearly 20 percent had high
levels of faecal contamination. Water samples taken from a restroom toilet showed less bacterial contamination
than the ice from 21 of the restaurants and bars sampled.
When ice machines are inspected, it is clear that many are not cleaned and sanitized very often, if ever. Mould
and slime build up inside them, bacteria multiplies and your ice becomes contaminated. Numerous studies show
that dirty, contaminated ice is more common than people realise.
CAN YOUR ICE MACHINE BE COSTING YOU MORE THAN IT SHOULD?
Mineral, lime-scale and mould build up can cause poor ice machine performance.
The water in this area is rich in minerals, especially lime. Lime-scale build-up can seriously decrease the speed
of your ice production and therefore increase energy consumption.
A regular ice maker cleaning schedule can keep your machine running at maximum efficiency.
We recommend installing a filter system. This is an important, but often overlooked, investment. Chemical
impurities in your water supply can dull the taste of your ice as well as harm your business.
Don’t wait – contact Fox Refrigeration Services today! 01375 392545