When news broke about numerous batches of romaine lettuce linked to an E. coli outbreak, consumers panicked as grocery stores and restaurants swiftly pulled the leafy green from their shelves and kitchens.
This latest outbreak is just one of an unfortunately long string of foodborne illness issues over the years, from tainted peanut butter to spinach and more that have sickened many and even killed others.
Just as consumers want to know more about how their food is grown and where it comes from, they also want to be assured that it is safe. As such, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2011, remains an important guideline and mission for all food producers—and that includes those who make ice.
Even though it’s just frozen water, ice can harbor pathogens just like any piece of romaine lettuce. So how can and should a convenience store or other retailer maintain ice safety in stores and throughout multiple locations? Here are a few easy steps.
Step 1: Buy safe ice
Some retailers prefer to buy packaged ice to mitigate risks posed by the improper handling of ice and regular cleaning required when using ice machines. When doing this, it’s important to buy this ice from the safest source.
The International of Packaged Ice Association has worked hard to set and ensure that the packaged ice, block ice and other specialty ice produced by its members meet stringent sanitary manufacturing standards. These Packaged Ice Quality Control Standards, or PIQCS, are in full compliance with FSMA and cover everything from personnel hygiene, food safety training and best practices during the manufacturing process, to standards for clean and safe facilities, food grade contact surfaces, equipment and utensils, drinking water and more.
The standards also include guidelines for documenting and implementing a pest control program; bacteriological testing of the finished product; food security and crisis management procedures; supervision and record-keeping; recall plan establishment and annual mock recalls; in-house self-audits; date/lot coding of packaging for traceability, and maintaining a clean and safe warehouse and distribution operation. Even the plastic packaging used for the ice must be food grade and meet labeling laws. On top of that, PIQCS also follows all of the pre-requisites for HACCP and HACCP as a double duty when it comes to food safety.
Studies show that these standards set forth and maintained by the IPIA have successfully prevented foodborne illness outbreaks for over 20 years. By purchasing packaged ice from an IPIA member, c-stores and other retail operators of all types can rest assured that their ice they want to use for their fountain service, slushies, smoothies and more is safe as step one in an overall ice safety program.
Step 2: Handle all types of ice correctly
Even when using safe, packaged ice, the handling of this ice needs to be just as regimented as handling ice from an ice machine Where the scooping function alone is one of the primary vehicles of contamination.
Strictly enforced operating procedures and employee training must be implemented to prevent contamination that can occur by simply opening a package of ice and pouring or otherwise transferring the cubes to another bin or container.
Step 3: Clean and maintain ice machines and related equipment regularly
Taking a glance at inspection records for many foodservice facilities, it’s clear that ice machines are regularly cited for not meeting cleanliness standards—being dirty, harboring mold or having a misused ice scoop, for instance.
On average, the cleaning and sanitizing of ice machines should occur on a monthly, if not weekly, basis, in high-use, humid or dusty environments. If these standards are not laid out by the manufacturer or installer, it’s up to the retailer to set them and conduct the proper training and cleanliness checks to make sure they are met.
When cleaning and sanitizing an ice machine, the ice bin will need to be emptied first. Then, pay attention to cleaning the fan filter; all the food contact surfaces including the water lines, ice spray cups and of course the ice bin itself will need cleaning and sanitizing. Follow recommended in line water filter replacement frequency if you have one installed.
By purchasing packaged ice from an IPIA member, handling ice correctly in stores and maintaining and sanitizing equipment, c-stores and other retailers can be assured they are serving safe ice. This means that consumers, too, can rest assured knowing that the ice in their food is safe.
This post is sponsored by International Packaged Ice Association