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September 2007
By: Michael Romico

Suffering from cloudy or smelly cubes? When your ice tells you something's not right, these tips will get your ice machine back on track.

In many facilities, ice makers soldier on a solitary task, largely ignored as long ice is generated to spec and in the quantities needed. But as with any equipment, regular maintenance not only ensures a steady supply of ice, it also protects the quality and hygiene of the ice, conserves energy and prolongs the life of your units.

How do you know if you're not properly maintain-ing your ice machines? The signs are easy to spot, according to maintenance folks at Ecolab GCS. First, pay attention to ice production. If it changes, and specifically if it declines, your unit needs attention.

And second, the appearance of your cubes is a big sign of what's happening, or not happening, inside the machine. If your cubes look cloudy or have holes in them, are smaller than usual, or smell and/or taste bad, there's a problem somewhere.

For tips on basic ice machine maintenance, we turned to Mike Travis, v.p. of sales at Ecolab GCS. He says that while these units may be the most overlooked pieces of equipment in commercial kitchens, there are a few simple but critical things to do that will keep ice makers performing as needed.

1) Sanitize
Regardless of the machine's capacity, ice will inevi-tably sit in a storage bin for some time until it is used. Over time, the bin can absorb odors and even-tually contaminate new ice that is left in it. The way to stop that cycle: sanitizing.

Travis says the bin should be emptied of all ice and wiped down with the manufacturer's recommended cleaning solution. All sides of the bin, the doors and seals should be cleaned with the solution. Only spe-cifically formulated cleaning solutions will elimi-nate bacteria, and bins infused with antimicrobial agent should also be sanitized, as such agents help retard bacterial growth but don't actually stop it.

The task doesn't take long, and in return, sanitizing the bin is every operator's best defense against mold and other contaminants. "You have to think about what you're putting in your guests' glasses," Travis says.

2) Delime
Meanwhile, with the bin empty, Travis says it's a good time to run a deliming agent through the unit to dissolve the buildup of calcium, magnesium and other water deposits in the lines. Deliming should be done at least twice a year or quarterly for heavily used machines, Travis says.

3) Clean Coils
Condenser coils have a knack for attracting dirt, dust and grease. Ice maker coils are no different, and they require regular brushing and cleaning to maintain their peak efficiency, Travis says. Using a proper brush, operators should remove debris from around coils on a quarterly schedule. The area around condensers should also be free of obstruc-tions that reduce airflow.

4) Filter Your Water
Naturally, the essence of ice—water—demands close attention, and not surprisingly, an extraordi-nary number of ice machine service calls are related to water quality. Make water filter changes a con-stant, consistent part of your ice machine upkeep and you'll be repaid with fewer service issues over time.

It's hard to believe, but Travis says he has seen some ice makers operating for years with their original water filters in place. Long past their useful life, these filters become clogged with carbon, chlo-rine, scale and other debris, thereby reducing ice quality and driving up energy costs.

So change water filters every six months at a mini-mum, Travis says, and remember that heavy ice production will increase filter replacement fre-quency.

He also suggests using a water pressure gauge to determine filter performance. Generally, any read-ing that drops below 10 psi could indicate a clogged filter, he says. Another sign of clogging: smaller-than-normal ice cubes.

Overall water quality will also have a big impact on ice maker performance. Travis says equipping fa-cilities with proper water filtration and softening systems to combat poor quality water are imperative in many parts of the country. Properly treated water coming into the facility allows ice makers to operate as designed.

5) Don't Forget The Freon
And lastly, Travis says freon leaks from any point in the lines can turn any ice machine into a energy waster. Look for oily pools or stains as signs that freon may be leaking.

Also key: Corrosion on the lines is a warning sign that leaks could occur. Travis says this is not a prevalent problem, but lines should be checked on units nearing the end of their lifecycle. If you find a leak, call a service agent to find the source, he says.

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