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Avoid Ice Bin Dangers

Of all the complicated things you have to worry about behind your bar — POS systems, liquor orders, soda guns — ice seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? You just have to make it and keep it cold, right?

Wrong! Serious food service safety issues can arise among those humble cubes.

“Failure to keep ice bins clean can lead to the growth of mold, mildew and even bacteria on surfaces of the bin as well as in the ice,” says Cheryl Luptowski, public information officer at food safety organization NSF International in Ann Arbor, MI. “Since freezing temperatures don’t actually kill bacteria that are known to cause food-borne illness, dirty ice bins could pose a health risk to customers.” Yuck!

Schedule Cleanings

Properly cleaning your bar equipment is essential to prevent pesky microorganisms from growing in and around your ice. To safeguard your ice and your customers, “establish an inspection and cleaning schedule to ensure dirt and mold aren’t allowed to build up,” Luptowski advises. Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions carefully. Some recommend using basic cleaners, others disinfectants.

At The Crunkleton, a classic cocktail bar in Chapel Hill, NC, owner Gary Crunkleton and the other bartenders drain and clean bins fully once a week and inspect them closely every shift. “Bacteria tends to grow where there’s no movement,” he says. “Pay special attention to corners, rims and even the bottom and sides. And don’t forget to empty bins out at night, too, so you can make sure there’s nothing in there.”

Like glass — everything from tiny chips to sizeable shards can easily hide among all those other crystal clear shapes.

Take Precautions

“To ensure the customer’s safety, you should never put a glass directly in the ice bin,” advises Ken Pisarcik, co-owner of the Las Vegas Lounge in Philadelphia. Or bare hands. “Always have an ice scoop available and use it.”

If a glass chips or breaks near the ice bin, don’t take any chances. “Kill it and clean it,” Crunkleton says. The trouble of throwing out the ice and wiping down the bin is far less than the trouble you have if a customer finds bits of glass in his glass.

Buy New

Another less obvious danger is a bad compressor, which impairs the unit’s ability to chill. Standing water from melting ice breeds all kinds of bad things. “Ice bins are really just dumb objects, but don’t cut corners,” Crunkleton says. “Don’t buy these things used — they’re going to break.”

Instead, invest in the best ice bin you can based on recommendations from other bar owners. “Check with your local health department prior to purchasing to verify what certifications may be required, such as NSF/ANSI 2: Food Equipment,” Luptowski says.

Following this food service safety advice helps you and your staff avoid the unseen hazards lurking in your ice bins and ensures that the only “secret ingredients” in your drinks are the ones you intend to be there.

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