The Cold, Hard Facts

Ice is food, so keep it clean and safe with the right machine.

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

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Ice machines are hardly one size fits all. Continued evolution and innovation have affected the devices’ noise, heat, flavor, sanitation, labor and ice variety.

Crucial factors to consider when choosing an ice machine include type of ice needed and capacity. One manufacturer, Ice-O-Matic, is building an online educational resource with information on ice types and applications, choosing the right machine and recipes for specialty drinks. “Our approach is: Customers aren’t buying ice machines; they are buying ice. The machine is just the mechanism to make the ice,” says Brian Doster, a regional manager for the Denver-based company.

When selecting a machine, review the total cost of ownership—not just the upfront expenses, but also energy charges, water usage, cleaning time and maintenance. “Some makers require that a technical service agent clean the machine rather than store personnel,” says Scott Bingham, product marketing manager for Easton, Pa.-based Follett Corp. Such points are important to know before making a purchase. Following is a collection of purchasing and maintenance tips to ensure retailers get the maximum life out of their ice machines.

Ice Machine Types & Terms

Following are terms you’ll come across while hunting for the right machine.

Top-mounted dispenser ice machines are just that—mounted atop a fountain dispenser. These machines may be filled either remotely or manually.

Satellite-fill (remote automatic) machines transport ice to different points through a tube. No human touches the ice until it hits the cup so sanitation, labor costs and “slip and fall” accidents may be less of a concern.

Remote manual machines are the original, back-room scoop-andtote ice machine.

Water-cooled condensers generate less heat than air-cooled but are “once-through” systems: Water runs through the machine once and then down the drain, which could lead to higher water bills.

Air-cooled machines use air to cool water, are more energy-efficient and result in lower utility bills than water-cooled. But air-cooled makers do produce heat. Only air-cooled machines can achieve Energy Star status at this point, which can translate into rebates.

Nugget or chewable ice is popular among consumers who like to munch ice; this unique selling point can increase fountain sales. Also, “It actually displaces the beverage better so it can increase profits on a soft drink, because it takes 15% to 20% less syrup in a 20-ounce cup,” says Doster.

Scale is a buildup of calcium and magnesium generally caused by hard water. It can affect the taste of water and damage ice machines over time.

Slime is mold or fungus that accumulates from bacterial growth on surfaces constantly exposed to clinging water drops and warm temperatures. Slime can cause an objectionable flavor and odor in ice.

Clean It Up & Keep It Up

“Ice is food,” says John Sara, senior product manager for Manitowoc Ice, Manitowoc, Wis. In that context, ice sanitation takes on the importance it deserves.

 “One of the most common issues with ice at the retail level is lack of cleaning and sanitizing of equipment, and that’s why we’re thrilled to see some of the commercial ice machines coming out that are self-cleaning and sanitizing. That’s a wonderful sign,” says Jane McEwan, executive director of International Packaged Ice Association (IPIA).

The IPIA’s membership includes manufacturers and distributors of packaged ice, as well as manufacturers of ice-making equipment and supplies. One of its main missions is quality control, regulated through a program called Packaged Ice Quality Control Standards (PIQCS). Members must comply with these standards and are verified annually by NSF International.

“You look at [health] inspection reports across the country and it’s commonly commonly notated—‘ice machine slime,’ ‘ice machine dirt,’ ” McEwan says, citing unsanitary ice handling—be it buckets, scoops, or human hands—as another common culprit of unsanitary ice.

Ice-machine manufacturers suggest cleaning and sanitizing each unit every six months. “In some environments, such as a facility with bread making or with poor water quality, ice machines require more frequent attention,” says Terry Toth, marketing communications manager for Scotsman Ice System, Vernon Hills, Ill. Yeast from baking remains in the air and can cause mold growth and slime.

Seventy percent of ice-machine performance problems are associated with the water supply, through poor water quality, slow fill or insufficient water supply.

“Most of the ice machines that seem to break down are caused by scale buildup and poor water quality,” says Gary Price, director of sales for convenience store markets, Hoshizaki America Inc., Peachtree City, Ga. “If I were to open my own store, I’d focus on my water quality and make sure that what I’m delivering to the ice machine is the purest it can be.”

Install and regularly replace water filters to hinder mineral buildup. “The purest water freezes first, which means filtered water equals the fastest freeze and harvest cycles possible between cleanings,” says Sara. Following are more cleaning and sanitation tips:

Keep condensers clean and free of any obstructions. Hoshizaki’s Price recommends adding a biweekly check and clean of condensers based on operating procedures. Utility costs can go up as the machine has to work harder, and it also causes wear and tear on the machine, he says.

Clean ice chutes in beverage dispensers once a week to avoid calcium and scale buildup.

Cleaning and sanitizing an ice machine involves circulating a cleaning solution through the water system to remove buildup and repeating the same steps for sanitizing. An ice-machine cleaner removes mineral deposits and lime scale but does not disinfect. Use sanitizer on the ice machine and bin/dispenser to ensure the ice is safe to consume.

Select the correct cleaning solution for your machine based on evaporator type (nickel-plated vs. copper-tin-dipped).

Break down the water-related components in the machine. For example, the sump that holds the water must be cleaned and mineral scale removed.

The evaporator and every component that is exposed to water should be cleaned and sanitized. A dirty evaporator will increase harvest times, which will melt more ice in the harvest cycle and require the machine to run longer before the bin is full.

Replace old, inefficient machines. Energy Star models generally save 15% on electrical costs and 10% on water costs, and receive a rebate in most states. A list of qualifying machines is available at

Ice for 7 million

Thorntons’ “Fabulous Fountain” serves at least 7 million cups each year, and ice is a primary component of all those fountain drinks. Only filtered water creates the ice or runs through the fountains.

Mike Deel, senior director of facility services and purchasing for the Louisville, Ky.-based convenience chain of 164 stores, says Thorntons uses remotely filled ice machines atop beverage dispensers. “We primarily use Scotsman’s Prodigy nugget ice maker in the 600-pound and 1,300-pound sizes,” he says. “This will be our standard protocol going forward.”

Deel says removing heat from the stores with the remote machine was important because fountain areas tend to be confined spaces. “We also wanted the unit to be able to work at optimum performance, which is more likely in the back room,” he says.

Another wish high on Thorntons’ list when choosing an ice machine was nugget, or chewable, ice. “Nugget ice lasts longer, and good quality ice is important to a good quality drink,” Deel says. Thorntons also uses the Everpure water filtration system.

“We perform preventative maintenance on ice makers and fountains twice a year,” Deel says. “We use the maximum approved ice cleaners on our ice makers and Bev Clean to sanitize fountains.”

Thorntons’ fountain drinks follow strict company guidelines. They are served at 39 degrees or below using a cold-plate system, in which beverages are chilled by ice that is not dispensed for consumption. At this specific temperature, foam is reduced, ice does not melt and the drink’s original quality lasts longer.

Deel, who’s been with the company for 20 years, remembers a time when an employee had to make many trips from the back room, carrying 5-gallon buckets of ice to fill the 150-pound bin. “Our system today is more efficient,” he says. “It helps guarantee we always have ice at the dispenser. We always have the optimum mix and a more consistent mix for the fountain.” 

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