Commercial Ice Machine Care & Maintenance

A commercial ice machine is usually one of the hardest working pieces of equipment in your bar or restaurant. There are a few simple care and maintenance procedures you can do to get the most out of your commercial ice machine and protect your investment.

Water Filter Replacement

Water filters are extremely important to extending the life of your machine. A water filter will remove or reduce the amount of sediment and minerals from the water, keeping the ice clean and clear, it will remove odors and bad taste. Some manufacturers may even extend warranties for ice machines that have a filter on their water line.

Working water filters will also slow scale build-up which reduces ice production.

Antimicrobial Protection

Some commercial ice machine manufacturers like Hoshizaki have begun making machines that have cleanable removable antimicrobial protection filters built-in to protect the components from dust, lint, grease or flour. Scotsman has a patented water purging system called WaterSense to reduce scale build up in the machine. These filters and designs help to inhibit the growth of slime and mold for the life of the machine.

Slime and mold not only taste bad but are a health hazard for anyone consuming the water. Cleaning an ice machine and keeping it free of slime, mold, dust, or another growth is incredibly important.

You should also have a dedicated ice scoop that only comes in contact with the ice in the machine. Newer health regulation has different requirements for location, size, material, and sanitation of ice scoops. This will help keep your ice bin clean and free of any residue.

Sanitizing Your Machine

If you change your water filter regularly and invest in an antimicrobial agent you are well on your way to extending the life and performance of your ice machine. Your ice machine should be emptied and thoroughly cleaned every six months. You can clean your ice machine with a nickel-safe scale remover and an ice machine sanitizer.

By taking the time every six months to clean your machine and change water filters and antimicrobial devices, you can greatly increase the life and performance and power usage of your commercial ice machine. These preventative measures will not only enhance the experience of your patrons but regular maintenance will also guarantee the terms of your warranty in the unlikely chance something happens.

Very few end users fully understand the importance of properly cleaning and sanitizing their ice machines, storage bins, and dispensers. Many don’t even view ice as a food commodity. Yet the quality and safety of every beverage they serve as well as the longevity and power consumption of their equipment depend on the proper maintenance of this equipment.

Adding to the problem is that some contractors and technicians may not realize the importance of how to properly perform this task and how to help customers maintain the quality of ice that is being consumed. Many rushes through ice machine cleaning and sanitizing using untrained, entry-level personnel to minimize the cost to their customers. In reality, they are doing their customers a disservice by not being effective at eliminating bacterial growth and scale deposits.

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Here are some tips that can help your company do a thorough job when cleaning this equipment and help ensure your customers’ food safety.

Nothing is more important than the water going into the machine. Therefore, analyze the local water conditions to determine what kind of filtration is needed. Recent Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks, as well as cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis traced back to ice machines, have caused a change in philosophy of water filtration for equipment. Be aware that using carbon filters, which are typically used for taste and odor elimination, is not a good solution. ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, “Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems,” states that disinfectant should remain in the water supply. This means chlorine and chloramines should not be eliminated, and carbon taste and odor filters remove all such disinfectants. Particulates and parasitic cysts still need to be removed, and scale inhibitor needs to be added. Filters are available that will accomplish this — consult with your local suppliers.
When cleaning an ice machine, disassemble, soak, and hand-clean as many components as possible. Remove all ice and clean and sanitize the storage bin, as well. Clean the underside of the machine, all drain lines, and the outside of the bin or dispenser. Sanitize completely using quaternary ammonia. Mix some in a spray bottle and spray all surfaces at the completion of your service and allow it to dry on its own. Do not rinse it off. This will help deter bacterial and biofilm growth. 

Use only chemicals for scale removal that are approved by the manufacturer. Some materials and the plating of metal surfaces can be damaged by improper chemicals. Plastic pieces and hoses can be removed and cleaned with stronger chemicals, if necessary. Always use hot water when mixing chemicals, and always mix them to the suggested strength. Adding more cleaner will not help. Running cleaner through the machine longer doesn’t help either. After 20-30 minutes of cleaning, the pH level of the cleaner is back to neutral and it is no longer effective.

Mix up a new batch of cleaner and re-clean, as necessary. Never mix different cleaners together or add more to a mixed solution. Remember, as with all chemicals, follow the material safety data sheet (MSDS) guidelines for personal protective equipment, and be aware of how to treat exposure. Be prepared to properly clean up any accidental spills. Safety glasses or goggles and long chemical gloves are a must.

Nylon brushes, toothbrushes, and mild abrasive pads can all be used. Avoid using anything that might scratch or mar any surfaces, because any place that is scratched or marred will allow scale and bacteria a place to grab onto and grow. For cleaning out hoses and crevices, specialty brushes can be obtained. One source is your local music store – the brushes used for cleaning out trombones and French horns can be used for cleaning out hoses and drain lines.
Another way of dislodging debris in drains is to adapt a hose fitting to ¼-inch poly tubing and putting about a 6-foot length of tubing down the drain line to flush it out. This works well on reach-in and walk-in refrigeration units, as well. 
Ultraviolet lights, chlorine sachets, ozone water treatment, and other technologies are available both as OEM accessories and as aftermarket kits. These devices are designed to inhibit bacterial and biological film growth, though they’ll generally do nothing for scale buildup. Many manufacturers have developed special plastics that inhibit microbial growth, as well, so make sure any aftermarket devices will not void any warranties. In most cases with newer machines that have the antimicrobial plastics, it is not usually necessary to add anything beyond regular maintenance to keep machines clean. Exceptions are where airborne yeast is present, such as in bakeries, sandwich shops, and pizzerias. Also, be aware that any exposure to beer causes an increase in bacterial growth and increases the risk of contamination.
Flake and nugget ice machines require a little special care. They will hold more mineral deposits because of their entire use of the water source (as opposed to cubers that only freeze pure water). When working with flake and nugget machines, be sure you pull the extrusion head, check the auger and evaporator surface, check all bearing tolerances, and make sure drive motor amperage is correct after cleaning.
Remember, the most important thing is to deliver quality ice to customers with no imperfections or contamination. After cleaning an ice machine, it’s a good idea to run a production test to ensure the machine is working properly. It’s also a good idea to take before-and-after pictures, as well. To run a production test for a cuber, simply time, catch, and weigh a batch of ice and record the air temperature entering the condenser and the water temperature. Convert time to a decimal (for example, 14 minutes and 30 seconds would be 14.5) divide that into 1,440 (the number of minutes in a 24-hour period) and one will arrive at the number of cycles per day. Multiply that by the weight and that will give total production for a day. Compare this to the manufacturer’s published production for the ambient and water temperatures (see the sidebar, “Make Sure Ambient Air Reaches the Condenser.”)

For a nugget or flake ice machine, it is even easier. Catch ice for 15 minutes and weigh. Multiply by four and then again by 24 and that will total the 24-hour production that can then be compared to the manufacturer’s specifications for the given ambient and water temperatures. After ensuring proper operation, a tech may need to coach the customer on proper ice management. Remind them not to waste ice. Explain to them to fill all drink stations and bar boxes at the end of the night and first thing in the morning and to rake the ice down afterward to ensure the machine is running 24 hours a day. This will ensure maximum production, especially during high summer demand.

By making sure the proper water filtration is in place, cleaning the equipment properly and regularly (generally every six months), and educating customers on how to get the most out of their ice machines, a company can provide exceptional service and help eliminate one of the industry’s customers’ biggest headaches: running out of ice. In addition, a tech can ensure customers are receiving quality beverages, as well.

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