Ice, ice baby- but make sure it’s clean

How do you know if your ice is clean?

Freezing does not kill bacteria and other microorganisms, according to the Center for Disease Control’s foodborne illness fact sheet. In general, says the CDC, refrigeration or freezing prevents virtually all bacteria from growing but generally preserves these microbes in a state of suspended animation.

So once the ice starts to thaw in your drink, if happened to be contaminated? You’re at risk for a foodborne illness such as E. Coli.

The CDC notes that ice may become contaminated from the use of impure water, contamination of ice making machines, or from improper storage or handling of ice. The Food and Drug Administration does not inspect small packaged ice producers, like retail stores, that make and package ice directly for the consumer.

According to the FDA, these stores, along with food service establishments that make ice on the premises, are subject to regulation by state and local authorities. The FDA Food Code, on which most state and local food regulations are modeled, contains provisions related to the safe and sanitary production and handling of ice.

But the International Packaged Ice Association (IPIA),  representing ice manufacturers who voluntarily subject their plants to inspections from outside auditing sources, say that where you get your ice does matter.

In the effort to maintain the best practices of food safety, and to make sure that ice is safe, they recommend the following:

  • The package of ice must carry the IPIA logo
  • The bag must be properly closed and secure without drawstring ties
  • Ice should be clear, odorless, and tasteless
  • The bag should have a product code for traceability
  • The bag must be free of any foreign objects or particles
  • The bag must have the manufacturer’s name, address and phone number

Jane McEwen, executive director of the IPIA, answered my questions about ice safety.

1)  Do you know of any instances where people have been sickened by ice?

Yes, the most major incidence was 20 years ago where 5,000 people fell ill from consuming contaminated ice in their drinks purchased at a University of Pennsylvania football game. We feel there would be many more reported incidences of illness from contaminated ice if it wasn’t the last food product considered normally when an outbreak occurs. And even then, when it is considered the ice in question has long since melted. The Center for Disease Control says 50% of all annual outbreaks are not traced back to the source!

2)  Where are consumers likely to buy ice without the symbol? Seems like all the major outlets would carry ice with the IPIA logo- don’t they?

Many of the major retail outlets purchase accredited ice from an IPIA member. However, there are also retailers moving into or have already implemented private label packaging without the IPIA logo and/or producing the ice themselves without IPIA standards accreditation. So, unfortunately sometimes you have to shop around to find packaged ice with the IPIA logo.

3) What plants in the Phoenix metro area aren’t members?

Like many major markets, there are probably hundreds of packaged ice producers at the retail level in Phoenix that are making and bagging ice in the store for retail sale. If you stop at a convenience store to purchase ice and don’t see the logo, then it is almost a sure bet, they are producing the ice and packaging it in the store.

4) Is it dangerous to use ice from a cooler in beverages glasses that was also used to store other foods- or even soda cans, for that matter?

Yes, high probability of cross contamination from the food. Please don’t do that.

5) Can you get a cooler clean enough to hold ice that is then directly used in beverages?

Sure. A thorough cleaning and sanitizing process like any food contact surface. Wash with hot soapy water and then sanitize with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of bleach to a quart of water. Rinse and let dry.

6)  What about ice frozen at home and transported in a cooler? Is that safe to transport and then use communally in beverages?

The ice would be safe to transport and consume following 4 and 5 above assuming the ice produced in the freezer is safe.



One response to “Ice, ice baby- but make sure it’s clean

  1. Honestly, I’ll drop food on the floor and still eat it so dirty ice doesn’t bother me that much. I eat without washing my hands all the time; bacteria is everywhere all around us. You can’t really be paranoid about it. It probably makes your immune system tougher if you’re a bit dirtier.

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