What You Should Know Before Using The Ice Machine At A Restaurant

Before you order your next drink at a restaurant, you might want to think twice about ice — not because it waters down your soda but because it is, according to BES Group, about as germ-ridden as toilet water. Studies in the U.S., the UK, and China have repeatedly shown high levels of potentially dangerous bacteria, including E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and coliform bacteria, as well as mold in restaurant ice machines (per QSR Magazine).

This disgusting and dangerous problem is most commonly caused by a simple lack of hygiene. QSR notes that ice machines are often overlooked in cleaning and the constant presence of water makes them susceptible to the formation of mold and slime. Additionally, employees who may have handled food or other germ-y items sometimes grab ice with their hands or use a scoop that then gets thrown back into the ice, transferring germs from all over the kitchen directly into the ice and then, horribly, into your drink, where it can cause illness or possibly even death if the bacteria isn't treated properly.

How to stay safe

How can you prevent this chilling possibility? Well, if you work in food service the answer is fairly simple: Clean your ice machines. Total Food Service notes that it is a common misconception that ice machine's freezing temperatures will kill off bacteria that causes illnesses, and they must be regularly cleaned and have their filters changed. According to QSR, ice machines should be inspected and wiped down thoroughly each week — even hard to reach or badly lit areas — to prevent any build up of slime or mold and contaminants like dust and dirt. If you are in a management role, make sure this responsibility is clearly delegated and enforce proper employee sanitary practices.

As a customer, your options are more limited. However, it is always possible to request no ice in your drink if you have doubts about the restaurants' sanitary practices, which is a safe bet for many fast food restaurants based on BES Group's report. You may also want to steer clear of drinks from self-service machines as these also may not be regularly cleaned. Finally, you may want to pass on water even if it is offered for free at a restaurant because most of the pitchers it is served in automatically include ice from the kitchen ice machine.