Commercial ice machines serve an important purpose. Especially in properties that host restaurants or stores that sell bags of ice. You might be surprised to learn just how much work they are asked to do in a given year.

Statistically, a single American purchases between four to six bags of ice per year. This number is even higher for people who live near a beach or who like to go camping. Of course, this consumption is at its peak during the summer. It’s also worth bearing in mind that restaurants and catering companies go through a much higher volume than that in just a single day.

Professional party planners recommend reserving at least one pound of ice per person for a picnic, and more for large outdoor events where cold drinks will be served. At the same time, restaurants typically plan on using three pounds per seat in the bar, and 1.5 pounds per diner.

This makes a commercial ice machine one of the most important pieces of equipment in just about any foodservice venue. Of course, ice is also the sort of thing that comes in contact with a lot of people. This includes employees who move ice from the machine to coolers and chill bins or service tables. Not to mention the servers who put it in drinks, or the staff who bag it for sale. This is a lot of hands and points of contact that occur before the ice even finds its way into your drink or your cooler.

When an ice machine goes down due to maintenance issues it can cripple service and leave you with a mass of dissatisfied customers. You have to also bear in mind that health, safety, and food inspectors also make it a point to check ice machines, coolers, and ice storage bins as part of their standard beverage area inspection. If they find a maintenance or a cleanliness issue, it can shut your establishment down in the short term and severely damage your community’s reputation in the long term.

Oversight Of Commercial Ice Machine Cleaning & Maintenance

The US Food and Drug Administration has regulatory oversight of large commercial manufacturers of packaged ice. Of course, cleaning and maintenance go far beyond just the crystal clear cubes that sit in the hopper. A professionally clean and maintained commercial ice machine also includes:

  • The plumbing
  • The plumbing fittings
  • The external and internal water lines
  • The health and quality of the water supply used to create the ice

On a slightly smaller scale, the ice machines use in hospitals, restaurants, bars, hotels, retail stores and food courts fall under the jurisdiction of local health and safety organizations or municipal food inspectors. These oversight entities tend to follow a lot of the same regulations that the FDA uses in their guidelines.

The Hazards Of A Poorly Maintained Or Unclean Ice Machine

While ice might be good for inhibiting bacterial growth, the temperatures that a commercial ice machine operates at can never be 100% perfect for inhibiting microbial development. Especially in ice machines that are used in foodservice venues that run low or frequently see the hatch door opening and closing.

It is an unfortunate reality that even large-scale commercial ice machines can start to harbor dangerous bacterial growth and contamination. This makes proper cleaning and maintenance very important. It’s also worth bearing in mind that frequent spot cleaning also helps prevent the formation of biofilm, which essentially protects harmful organisms. If a biofilm is allowed to establish a presence it can be very difficult and even expensive to fully eliminate.

How Often Does A Commercial Ice Machine Need To Be Cleaned?

From a performance standpoint, commercial ice machines need routine maintenance to operate at peak efficiency. This means watching for the telltale signs of maintenance problems like leaking water lines and overheating condensers. Though even a properly maintained ice machine still needs to be thoroughly cleaned at least every six months. Preferably sooner for restaurant and bar ice machines that see a lot of use and exposure to the hands of servers and other employees.

You should consult your ice machine’s owner’s manual, and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for how often to clean your commercial ice machine. Most include instructions on the best procedures and techniques for cleaning their model.

Common Signs Of A Problem With A Commercial Ice Machine

Commercial ice machines rarely malfunction without advanced notice. Though the signs of a problem aren’t always overt. You should be wary of a looming problem with your ice machine if you notice one or more of the following things:

  • Ice production volume is lower than normal
  • The ice produced looks overly cloudy compared to normal
  • Ice cubes are partially formed
  • The ice has a strange taste
  • The Ice gives off a strange odor
  • The ice machine’s housing feels overly hot
  • The ice machine shuts down or throws a circuit breaker more than usual

Exterior Ice Machine Cleaning

It’s important to note that a commercial ice machine needs to be cleaned on the exterior as well as the interior. Exterior cleaning measures include:
Removing dust from the condenser coils
Vacuuming out and removing dust from the area around the compressor
Giving the entire exterior a thorough wipe down with a sanitizing solution
Inspecting external water lines and plumbing fixtures for a problem and repairing if needed

Internal Ice Machine Cleaning

There are several important aspects of cleaning the interior of a commercial ice machine. The overarching goal is to remove:

  • Limescale deposits
  • Any traces of biofilm
  • Other possible materials like algae

This also tends to be an ideal time to replace any water filters per the manufacturer’s instructions, clear drains, and address any other potential internal plumbing problems.

Commercial Ice Machine Cleaning Process

While you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, most ice machine cleaning procedures follow these general steps.

  • Step One: Empty all ice from the reservoir
  • Step Two: Initiate the automatic cleaning cycle
  • Step Three: Use the manufacturers’ recommended cleaning solution
  • Step Four: When the automatic cleaning cycle ends disconnect the machine from the power supply
  • Step Five: Carefully remove ice machine components & soak in a mixture of cleaner solution
  • Step Six: Continue to carefully clean internal ice machine components following the manufacturers’ instructions

Sanitizing A Commercial Ice Machine

Many ice machine manufacturers include instructions for sanitizing a commercial ice machine. While there can be some variations, most ice machine sanitation procedures use the following steps.

  • Step One: Dilute the manufacturer’s recommended sanitizer solution with water to the correct ratio
  • Step Two: Use a spray bottle to spray all removed parts with the solution
  • Step Three: Use the spray bottle to thoroughly coat all food handling surfaces with sanitizer
  • Step Four: Replace all removed components
  • Step Five: Wait the recommended amount of time for the disinfectant to work
  • Step Six: Connect the ice machine to power and turn it on
  • Step Seven: Initiate the automatic cleaning cycle