Can ice go bad?
In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question “can ice go bad?” and precautions to stay safe while eating ice.
Can ice go bad?
Yes, ice used for direct human consumption or to preserve foods and cool down drinks can be contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms and may potentially become a vehicle for consumer’s infection.(1)
Ice which comes into contact with foods or which may contaminate foods has to be made from potable water and has to be made, handled and stored under conditions that protect it from contamination
Hence, food grade ice, or simply “food ice”, is a product that after melting becomes potable water and must have the same chemical and microbiological characteristics of the water before freezing (2)
How can ice go bad?
Ice can go bad when the water used to produce food ice contains pathogenic microorganisms that survive during the freezing process. This contamination of ice can be attributed to contaminated initial water source or storage tanks, equipment, packaging, storage and handling of the ice.
In addition to these factors, ice-making machines can play an important role in the contamination of ice due to seeding from the mains supply, faulty plumbing allowing backflow from the drains and irregular cleaning of the machines.
Environmental contamination, mostly airborne and through utensils, is also possible. The ice is usually stored in open buckets or in the refrigerators beside foods of various origin, particularly in bars and restaurants, and thus is susceptible to environmental contamination. (1)
What are the risks of consuming contaminated ice?
The main risk of consuming contaminated ice is the occurrence of gastroenteritis. Ice has been directly identified as being responsible for several gastroenteritis epidemics as a consequence of direct (used for cooling drinks) or indirect (used for cooling fishes soon after catching) consumption.
However, considering the common mode of consumption of ice cubes, the risk is lowered by their application in drink/beverage systems containing different levels of alcohol, CO2, pH and antibacterial ingredients. (2)
What are the risks of homemade ice?
The domestically produced ice has a very low risk and usually provides a baseline for the microbial contamination of ice since home production typically involves very low volumes and high hygiene standards.(2)
How to avoid ice contamination?
In order to keep ice safe and prevent contamination, it’s necessary to follow these rules for safely handling ice:
Always be sure to wash hands using the correct hand washing method before working with ice in any way.
Use a utensil when working with ice. Never touch ice with bare hands. Be sure that utensils used to serve ice, such as ice scoops, are cleaned and sanitized. Store utensils used for ice in an area where they will not become contaminated.
Use specific containers for storing ice, and make sure they are properly labeled. Always clean and sanitize dedicated ice containers before use. Store ice containers upside down when not in use in order to prevent contamination.
Ensure that ice machines are working properly and are clean. Inspect ice machines regularly and perform regular maintenance. Do not store items near ice machines that could contaminate them (e.g. garbages, recycle bins, dirty dishes).
Ensure that ice machines are locked so that they cannot be tampered with. Do not work with ice if experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, nausea or fever. (3)
In this short article, we provided an answer to the question “can ice go bad?” and precautions to stay safe while eating ice.
- Gerokomou, V., Voidarou, C., Vatopoulos, A., Velonakis, E., Rozos, G., Alexopoulos, A., … Akrida-Demertzi, K. Physical, chemical and microbiological quality of ice used to cool drinks and foods in Greece and its public health implications. Anaerobe, 17(6), 351–353. 2011.
- Gaglio, R., Francesca, N., Di Gerlando, R., Mahony, J., De Martino, S., Stucchi, C., … Settanni, L. Enteric bacteria of food ice and their survival in alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. Food Microbiology, 67, 17–22. 2017.
- Canadian Institute of Food Safety, The Rules for Safe Ice Handling, FOOD SAFETY BLOG, October 11, 2022.