Foodservice Equipment Reports

Make Safe Ice, Serve Safe Ice

Ice: Clean. Cold. Clear. It’s the soul of a soda on a summer day. But what often lurks in and around those crystalline chunks sitting in an ice machine can be scary.  

Take the ice machine Scott Hester found on a recent service call with one of his technicians. Hester, owner of Refrigerated Specialist, Mesquite, Texas, says the client owned a high-volume ice machine that started producing smelly ice.

Poking his head into the ice bin, Hester says, he peered up and saw an unholy mess of bacterial slime coating the bin’s roof and ice chute. “All those areas can get gross and slimy,” he says, but regular, careful cleaning can keep this and other ice-machine issues at bay.

Cleaning: The Basics

Hester recommends you always use the manufacturer’s suggested cleaning solution to prevent damage to internal surfaces or components. Compatibility is important: Some cleaning solutions can quickly do big damage to evaporators made with delicate nickel plating or with soldering on copper tubing.

Hester says maintaining a regular schedule in tune with your work environment is key, and timing these cleaning cycles with other maintenance tasks, such as replacing water filters, only improves performance.

Easy steps: Before cleaning, empty all the ice from the unit. Then, in general, cleaning will involve taking off the unit’s front cover, turning the cycle switch to wash mode, which shuts off the refrigeration operation, and adding the cleaning solution to the sump pump. Hester says you should allow the solution to circulate through the machine for the recommended amount of time, then drain.

Important: At this point, Hester emphasizes, you need to check the cleaning solution. If it’s still discolored, run another batch of fresh cleaning solution and water through the system. The second (or sometimes third) cleaning cycle should do the job the right way, he says.

Once the drained solutions appear clear, Hester suggests you use a soft brush dipped in the solution to gently scrub the plastic curtains and small parts in and around the ice bin. If possible, the bin should be removed and rinsed as well.

As an example of how long this maintenance should take, Hester says his staff can spend 90 minutes cleaning a 400-lb. ice machine in a troublesome bread-baking environment, such as a sandwich restaurant. For a high-capacity, high-use unit producing 1,200 lbs. of ice in a chain unit, this cleaning routine can take up to four hours.

Consider Machine Location

Speaking of a bread-baking environment, ice machines have a particularly rough life in environments that produce airborne particles. As with any equipment possessing air intakes, dust, residue and dirt kicked up in the atmosphere will find its way inside ice machines. But perhaps the most troublesome particles are yeast spores.

Heat migrates to cold, Hester says, and yeast spores released from bread-baking ovens readily find their way inside the ducts and nooks of ice machines.

“The spores get an opportunity to be sucked into the ice bin and elevate up,” Hester explains. The spores, drawn to the moisture added by the water lines and freezing elements inside ice machines, feed and multiply in the moist air, resulting in a predictable outcome.

Mold and any bacterial contamination of ice, which is defined as a food product by sanitary inspectors, will trigger citations. Hester says consumers may overlook contaminated ice as a culprit, “[but] you just might get sick, and you'll think it’s the chicken or the soup.”

While ice machines in less hostile environments may suffice with a six-month preventive maintenance schedule, Hester says he routinely calls for three-month schedules for ice machines subjected to these conditions.

Another deterrent to proper cleaning procedures is often the location of the unit. For example, Hester says convenience-store operators have to pay careful attention to ice units located atop post-mix beverage dispensers. Since these units are hard to reach and difficult to empty, they often end up neglected.

Remember To Clean The Coils

The ice machine’s condenser coil is another component that, when neglected, results in a unit that’s working harder and producing less ice than needed.

On units in relatively grease-free surroundings, Hester says a regular spraying of the coils with a household pH-neutral solution will suffice.

For dirtier coils, Hester recommends these steps: Remove the vent cover and dry-brush dust and particles from coils. If available, use compressed air to blow out corners and hard-to-reach areas. Then, using an appropriate solution, spray on a cleaner and allow it to penetrate. Use a wet rag to wipe down the surfaces.

If the coils are particularly dirty or hard to reach, Hester says this job may be best done by a service tech.

Insider’s Tip: Spotting Scale

Finally, during the ice machine cleaning process you also can work on spotting and removing scale, Hester says.

The evaporator, usually bonded to the back of the freeze plate where the ice is formed, will function less efficiently if covered with scaled water deposits. Hester says that by allowing the evaporator to air-dry completely, the scaly deposits are easier to spot and therefore can be spray cleaned. If left wet, the deposits are harder to see.

Related Articles

The Way To Better Ice

Rotos Running Right

Keep Hot Drinks Flowing Right