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Ice Guidelines for Healthier Beverages


You’ve heard stories about restaurant ice harboring more bacteria than toilet water. By news accounts, the stories are at least sometimes true. That it’s only water — and kept cold — doesn’t mean it can’t bestow a little food poisoning. It does mean someone didn’t follow protocol (see sidebar). And the same thing could easily happen at your house.


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If you don’t think so, consider these situations: 

  • A busy cook pauses in food preparation to break ice cubes out of the tray and drop them into guest glasses.

  • Ice Guidelines for Restaurants,
    Hotels and Hospitals Include:

    1. Wash hands! Wash them thoroughly before touching dishes and scoops that will contact the ice.

    2. Store the scoop in a clean dish when not engaged in scooping — not in the ice, and not on a towel. Dampened with melted ice, cloth will breed bacteria.

    3. Get into the ice as seldom as possible. If no automatic dispenser is available, keep the ice chest closed until ice is needed.

    4. Bring the ice to the pitcher — and not the pitcher to the ice source — if it is in the room of someone with an infectious disease. Use a disposable cup to carry the cubes.

    5. Sanitize the ice chest after use with a disposable germicidal cloth. Rinse and dry, with paper towels or clean cloths.

    6. Regularly clean all parts inside automatic dispensers using an appropriate solution of EPA-registered disinfectant, or 10-100 parts water to one part household bleach. Rinsing, of course.

    7. Clean the drip grate area regularly.

    8. Follow all cleaning with a thorough air dry.

    A child pets the dog, then pops a glass-worth of ice out of the tray or bin. He contaminates
    other cubes in the process — and leaves them in the freezer for the next unsuspecting customer.

  • A small-time daredevil reaches into the automatic dispenser to break up an ice cube jam by hand — spreading whatever bacteria is present on that hand.
Infection Prevention Basics

The ultimate culprit is almost guaranteed to be unwashed hands, or hands not washed nearly well enough. You know you should wash hands before touching anything to do with the ice. But did you know that a thorough job will take about 20 seconds?

A few precautions in addition to hand washing will help protect the chill supply:


  1. Keep hands out of the ice. If you don’t have an automatic dispenser on your refrigerator, offer a clean scoop in a clean dish near the freezer, cooler or tabletop bowl (for example, at parties). Cover the bowl with plastic and keep the cooler shut as much as possible.

  2. Regularly send dishwasher-safe ice paraphernalia through a heated, sanitizing dish cycle if your machine boasts one.

  3. Sanitize non-dishwasher-safe items — such as an insulated cooler — with a disposable germicidal wipe. Rinse well, dry with a clean cloth and allow to air dry completely.

  4. When cleaning the kitchen, don’t neglect the cubby area and drip grate of the automatic ice dispenser, if you have one.

  5. For occasional problems with your refrigerator’s icemaker, such as ice jams or discolored cubes, consult the owner’s manual. In addition to offering solutions, it will probably tell you not to put your hand near the mechanisms when the fridge is running anyway — forget the bacteria; you don’t want an injury.


Ice Guidelines for Healthier Beverages:  Created on December 17th, 2007.  Last Modified on January 21st, 2014


About IEHA


The International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA) is a 3,200-plus member organization for housekeeping management. Executive housekeepers are managers that direct housekeeping programs in commercial, industrial or institutional facilities, including upscale hotels, hospitals, schools, and other public places. The non-profit was founded in 1930 in New York City, and is now located in Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of the state’s capitol.