Safe Beverage Service


Q: What are the risks of foodborne illnesses when using ice machines and beverage dispensers? 

A: The risks of foodborne illness in a foodservice environment aren’t anything new. But have you considered ‘drinkborne illnesses’? Ice machines and beverage dispensers are often overlooked as a serious cause of illness in foodservice establishments – even non-commercial operations.

Humidity levels, warm temperatures, high sugar concentrations, hard to clean crevices and poor handling and cleaning practices make these machines prone to microbial and viral contamination. Some pathogens — like Norovirus, Salmonella, Shigella, Listeria, Hepatitis A and E. coli — may be looming in contaminated ice machines and beverage dispensers.

Regular, thorough dismantling and cleaning of all parts using the chemicals and process recommended by the equipment manufacturer can greatly reduce the risk of infection. Additionally, ensure that gaskets provide a tight seal to keep moisture from building up inside the machine, and regularly look for (and fix) damages to the machine, its tubing, the water filter or backflow prevention device. Any water leaking from cracked tubing may provide a breeding ground for flies or cockroaches. 

The fact that ice is a frozen food does not eliminate its potential risk for contamination. A regular, thorough, deep clean is required for ice machines. Failure to do so can lead to the growth of a slime called biofilm — a matrix of mould or bacteria and their secretions — which is very difficult to remove. For this reason, many manufacturers recommend a deep clean every 6 months in addition to routine cleaning and sanitizing. Some large-scale operations find it useful to hire contract companies to perform these deep cleans to ensure a thorough clean.

Illness on the Rocks

Properly-cleaned equipment is just part of the solution. Staff handling of ice is another potential hazard to guests. Just like with other ready-to-eat foods, it is imperative to maintain sanitary handling procedures with ice. Here are some ways to minimize the risk of your customers contracting a foodborne illness from ice:

  • Follow all cleaning and sanitizing recommendations from the machine manufacturer.
  • Train staff on detailed, frequent and thorough cleaning and sanitizing plans.
  • These instructions should include details on how to dismantle and reassemble removeable parts, what chemicals to use, the concentration of the chemicals, how to identify mould and dust, who is doing the work, the frequency of cleaning, who will verify the work and how this will be recorded.
  • Ensure hands and wipes are clean before using or cleaning equipment. 
  • Ensure clean, unbreakable, food-grade ice scoops are used and stored in appropriate holders. 
  • Regularly inspect drains, tubing, gaskets, joints, seams, backflow device, water filter, ice scoops, nozzles, faucets and trays and correct any defects right away.
  • Remove all standing liquids from underneath and inside machines to avoid creating breeding grounds for pests such as flies or cockroaches.
  • If you have a large operation, you may wish to hire an external contractor to regularly clean machines.

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