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Are You at Risk? Dirty Office Ice Maker Secrets You Need to Know!

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Did you know that a dirty ice maker could spread disease and illness among employees? No one considers how dirty an ice maker can actually get. Mold and slime build up inside of them, bacteria grows, and your ice becomes contaminated.

Did you know that ice could contain more bacteria than even toilet water? How is this possible? Poor ice handling and a dirty ice machine!

What are the dangers? One of them is biofilms.

The CDC describes biofilms as "an assemblage of microbial cells that is irreversibly associated (not removed by gentle rinsing) with a surface and enclosed in a matrix of primarily polysaccharide material."

Once a polysaccharide is formed, the bacteria can no longer leave the surface, and when new bacteria is produced, it remains within the polysaccharide layer. This layer, which is the biofilm, is highly protective of the organisms within it.

Biofilms are ubiquitous to the environment and can form ona variety of surfaces, including living tissues like teeth, medical devices, water piping, or natural aquatic systems. Water biofilm is highly complex. They're self-protective and normal sanitizing can't kill them. That's why disease producing bacteria can be extremely difficult to get rid of if it's living in a biofilm.

Most mold and fungi won't grow in or on the surface of a biofilm when it's submersed in water, but in an ice maker where surfaces are damp and not submersed, mold and other fungi can grow and possibly find a home in a protective biofilm.  

bacterium

Pseudomonas Aeruginosa is ubiquitous to the environment, too. It's a free-living bacteria that is often found in natural waters like lakes.

This organism is typically found in 2% of drinking water samples. It can also survive in distilled or deionized water. Its occurrence in drinking water is related to its ability to colonize in a bioflim often found in plumbing fixtures like faucets and shower heads.

If protected in a biofilm, it can actually cause chronic infections in people. If you have a biofilm in your ice machine containing Pseudomonas, it can be sloughed off into ice production. In individuals with a compromised immune system, it can cause folliculitis and ear infections orkeratitis and eye infections. In hospitals, it's known to cause endocarditis, osteomyelitis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, and meningitis, and is a leading cause of septicemia.

Ice is frozen water but just because it's frozen, doesn't mean it doesn't contain harmful bacteria. Bacteria can live in a frozen environment. Potential causes of illness might include an unclean surface, a dirty filter, or cross contamination from poor handling.

Ice makers are also susceptible to brown slime that's caused by natural occurring airborne yeast. Though not as serious as some of the problems mentioned above it's still an issue and can cause allergy symptoms similar to mold like nasal congestion, and itchy, watery eyes. It can also cause digestive problems like abdominal cramping, constipation, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. Below are some basic cleaning strategies to keep you ice maker in good operating condition and free of contamination.

Office ice makers are often the most neglected. Employees use them frequently; however, they are rarely cleaned. Cleaning an ice maker ona regular basis is the answer to most contamination problems.

Basic cleaning

inside fridge ice maker

First off, the city ofHouston, Texas recommends cleaningan ice maker with Quaternary Ammonium or QAC at 200 parts per million. It said to be safe on stainless steel parts. The chlorine in bleach reacts with the nickel in the stainless steel so it is not recommended. That being said, if you have a serious problem with bacteria, you need to clean the unit with a bleach mixture.

The following instructions apply to most ice machines.

1. First, remove all of the old ice.

2. Wipe down the inside of your ice machine with a mild detergent and rinse completely.

3. If it's hooked up to a water line, sanitize the lines of the ice machine. Be sure to reference the owner's manual for your particular design; in many cases each ice machine has a different set of procedures.

4. If you see brown slime this is probably yeast. A quick scrub will not solve the problem. Certain commercial sanitizers will kill yeast,but it's best to refer to your owner's manual for specific instructions. Be aware that every surface of the machine needs to be scrubbed to get rid of the problem or it will return.

5. Check for any signs of bacterial growth: pink or black film is a sign of mold. You may not openly see bacteria growing, but a good way to kill bacteria and sanitize the ice maker is to fill a spray bottle with 1/2 bleach and 1/2 water and spray all of the surfaces. Be sure to rinse all surfaces thoroughly after cleaning with detergent and distilled water.

6. Check to see if the water filter is dirty. If the filter is dirty then change it. Filters should be changed on a regular basis, usually every 6 months.

7. Also, check the evaporator. Excess minerals can stick to the evaporator making it hard for ice to be released into the tray.

8. Dirty condenser coils have an effect on your ice cooler's temperature thus resulting in slow ice production. Clean your condenser coils for more efficient ice production.

Other Dangers and Clean Practices

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Common to commercial establishments, contaminated ice is aproblem simply because the ice machine is not cleaned frequently enough. Reports indicate that in the UK places like McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and Starbucks had levels of bacteria in the ice that was considered a "hygiene risk." 

There is always the problem of cross contamination and food borne illnesses in commercial establishments, too. However, the problem is present in workplaces. 

Oftentimes, the ice in a workplace is mishandled. Though an unpleasant thought, how many employees actually wash their hands after using the restroom, eating, and other daily practices?

They go to the ice maker and put their cup in the ice machine to gather ice. Even if there is a scooper, how many employees use the scoop with their bare hands and then toss the scooper into the ice?

To combat the problem, provide the following:

  • Install a holder for the ice scooper outside of the machine itself that way it's not handled with bare hands and then dropped into the machine. This will help prevent any kind of cross contamination.
  • Encourage healthy practices by placing a "wash hands" sign in the bathroom. This may not guarantee cleanliness but it might help encourage employees using the restroom to wash their hands before they leave.

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