Foodborne illness incidents occur every single day. In recent news (here and here), unsanitary operational practices in restaurants have lead to global awareness. Specifically related to ice. So let’s talk about how bacteria and viruses get into our ice and how we can best keep ice clean and safe for customers.
First, let’s address a common question. Isn’t ice cold enough to kill bacteria and viruses? Short answer, no! Once the ice is made it falls into a large bin for holding until it is used. The temperature in that bin remains around 35 to 40 degrees fahrenheit, and is NOT cold enough to kill off harmful pathogens. In fact, the ice bin is a dark, damp place that is perfect for mold, algae and biofilm to thrive - which bacteria LOVE to consume. So how exactly can you protect your customers, your brand and your integrity regarding this food product? It’s simple.
WASH YOUR HANDS.
Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Sorry for the repetition, but we cannot say this enough. Clean hands are the number one way foodservice representatives can prevent spreading foodborne illness. When do we need to wash our hands? Easy answers are every time we go to the restroom, handle raw meat, or sneeze. But the need to wash hands goes well beyond that to sneezing, blowing your nose, handling money, scratching your eyes or skin, smoking, etc. Many restaurants encourage employees to wear gloves and change them often for this very reason.
When employees scoop ice they open the bin with one hand, grab an ice scoop off a nearby shelf or on top of the ice machine (should be stored safely and cleanly), and they might even lean into the bin with one hand while they scoop with the other. Each time the machine is touched, whether it be the bin lid, the ledge of the compartment, or somewhere else, you’re introducing whatever germs are on your hands to the ice.
Best Hand Washing Practices
So, now that you know you don’t wash your hands enough (none of us do), let’s talk more about the best way to wash our hands to kill off these germs. It is a pretty simple, but important process. First, wet your hands with hot, clean water. Next, add soap and rub hands together for 20 seconds. It’s important to not cut corners here, and really rub your hands thoroughly being sure to get around the fingernails and in the webbing of your fingers where germs like to hide. Finally, rinse your hands with hot, clean water to wash all of those germs down the drain and dry your hands with a clean dry paper towel.
Remember, washing your hands more while working in a restaurant helps keep your entire operation clean and safe. Washing hands also reduces the chance of spreading germs into your ice bin, your beverages or any other food that requires ice as an ingredient.
For more info on how to prevent foodborne illness through hand washing check out this great guide by stopfoodborneillness.org.