If you’re anything like the average American consumer, you happily accept ice-laden beverages from restaurants, bars, and fast food establishments with barely a thought given to the floating cubes that cool your drink. Recent evidence shows that this apathetic attitude may come back to bite, as ice cubes could contain just as much bacteria as toilet water. Read on to find out more and learn about ways to protect yourself from invasive germs.
It’s always a sad day when something you cherish so much turns dark; however, your beloved ice, be it crushed, cubed, or shaped with some elaborate mold, may be more than the harmless frozen water you thought it was. In fact, this research, performed by the Daily Mail, revealed a disgusting truth about ice machines that will shock you. Though restaurants must adhere to strict standards of cleanliness and sanitation when it comes to their food and preparation surfaces, ice machines are not always given the same care and attention.
According to the study, six out of ten restaurants had ice that tested positive for more bacteria than is found in toilet water. Restaurants tested included McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Starbucks, among others. Authors of the study indicate that “None of the samples found presented an immediate health danger, but four contained such high levels of microbes the restaurants should be considered a ‘hygiene risk’” I don’t know about you, but if I have a choice, I’m going to avoid anything labeled a hygiene risk, even if it doesn’t pose an immediate threat.
Though many people think that the freezing temperatures of the fridge would prevent its growth, mold is another serious issue that seems to plague ice machines. Home and commercial ice machines should be cleaned three to four times per year to limit mold and slime growth.
According to The Food and Safety magazine, “When ice machines are inspected, it is clear that many are not cleaned and sanitized very often, if ever. Mold and slime buildup inside them is quite visible. Numerous studies show that dirty, contaminated ice is more common than people think.”
Take heart; it’s not all bad news. Ice sanitation is now treated as seriously as food sanitation, and ice machine cleanliness is viewed under the same laws as water purification. Foodservice establishments are subject to a fine of up to $100,000 for misdemeanors related to ice contamination. When food service employees adhere to these simple, common-sense guidelines, the amount of bacteria found in ice is dramatically lessened:
- Wash hands before obtaining ice.
- Hold the ice scoop by the handle and do not touch other parts of the scoop.
- Do not handle the ice with hands.
- Do not return unused ice to ice storage chest or ice machine.
While you alone are responsible for keeping your home freezer and ice machine clean and practicing proper food safety techniques, you have little control over the ice machines in the restaurants you choose to eat at. In that case, it is best to ask for drinks without ice whenever possible to avoid contamination. It is unlikely that any bacteria or mold on ice machines will lead to serious illness; however, there have been limited reports of ice with traces of various deadly viruses. Plus, when you don’t have ice in your drink, it is usually still chilled, and you will often get more for your buck since ice is not taking up space in the glass.
Remember, clean your ice machine thoroughly whenever your freezer has been off for an extended time, and always perform routine seasonal cleanings to help keep bacteria to a minimum. Change water filters according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and replace your home ice machine as needed.
Avoiding restaurants with suspect health and cleanliness guidelines is a good rule of thumb in general, and could save you from the uncomfortable results of contaminated food or drink. Keep in mind, as with most illnesses and bacteria, those with compromised immune systems are more likely to develop an adverse reaction. For instance, the very old and the very young, and anyone recovering from sickness would be at greater risk of contracting a disease from dirty ice.
Are you going to avoid restaurant ice from now on? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!