Foodservice Equipment Reports

The Way To Better Ice

In many facilities, icemakers soldier on, largely ignored as long as ice is generated to spec and in the quantities needed. But as with any equipment, regular maintenance not only ensures steady performance, 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 maintaining your ice machines? The signs are easy to spot, according to service agents. 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 a major supplier of cleaning chemicals for ice machines as well as Scott Hester, co-owner of Mesquite, Texas-based Refrigerated Specialist. While these units may be the most overlooked pieces of equipment in kitchens, there are a few simple but critical things to do that will keep icemakers performing as needed.

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

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 specifically formulated cleaning solutions will eliminate 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,” says our supplier source.

2) Delime. Meanwhile, with the bin empty, 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, or as often as necessary in environments that promote rapid growth of mold and algae, such as bakeries with a lot of airborne yeast, says Hester.

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

Take care that brushing action is parallel to the fins and does not just push dirt into the coil and cause impacted clogging, Hester cautions. Compressed air blowing through dirty coils will keep them clear. When dealing with grease and other heavy buildup, applying the correct chemicals the correct way will keep the condenser air flowing freely.

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

It’s hard to believe, but our supplier source says he has seen some icemakers operating for years with their original water filters in place. Long past their useful life, these filters become clogged with carbon, chlorine, scale and other debris, thereby reducing ice quality and driving up energy costs.

So change water filters every six months at a minimum, and remember that heavy ice production will increase filter replacement frequency.

Also suggested: use a water pressure gauge to determine filter performance. Generally, any reading that drops below 10 psi could indicate a clogged filter. Another sign of clogging: smaller-than-normal ice cubes.

Overall water quality will also have a big impact on icemaker performance. Our supplier source says equipping facilities 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 icemakers to operate as designed.

5) Don't forget the refrigerant. And lastly, Hester says that refrigerant leaks from any point in the lines or the equipment itself can turn any ice machine into an
energy waster. Look for oily pools or stains as signs that refrigerant
gas may be leaking.

A key point to remain aware of is the temperature of water entering the icemaker, says Hester. Properly functioning plumbing systems will prevent hot water migration to the cold-water side. During afterhours, only the icemaker is requesting water. If you have an intermittent problem related to a failed or absent
check valve that allows hot water to seep into cold water pipes, it will impact production of ice.

You can use data loggers to test pipes for this problem, says Hester. Do you get warm or hot water briefly when you turn on cold-water faucets when arriving in the morning? Sometimes a prerinse wand or mop sink that’s been left on can lead to this easily fixed problem.

Efficiency + Maintenance = Dollars

There's no doubt maintaining your ice machines will keep them in top shape. But choosing energy-efficient ice machines from the get-go will make your long-term maintenance steps all the more cost effective.

For help in determining the efficiency of a particular machine you're considering, go to the Food Service Technology Center Web site at www.fishnick.com. Look for the Online Toolbox at the homepage and click through to the Life-Cycle Cost Calculators. You can continue clicking through to Ice Machines and pull up a
calculator that will figure such variables as condenser type, ice harvest rate, energy consumption, pounds of ice made per day, etc.

The calculator will return estimates of annual energy and water costs as well as lifetime energy cost.

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