Can you get sick from eating ice? (How to avoid)
In this article, we are going to answer the question, “Can you get sick from eating ice”?
Can you get sick from eating ice?
Yes, ice that is intended for direct consumption by humans or for preserving food and cooling beverages can harbor harmful microorganisms, potentially serving as a source of infection for consumers. (1)
Any ice that comes into contact with food or has the potential to contaminate food must be produced using safe, potable water and handled and stored in a manner that safeguards it against contamination.
As a result, ‘food-grade ice,’ sometimes referred to simply as ‘food ice,’ must meet specific criteria. This product, once it melts, should yield water that is safe for consumption and possesses identical chemical and microbiological characteristics to the water from which it was originally frozen. (2)
Ice contamination occurs when the water used to create ice contains pathogenic microorganisms that can survive the freezing process. This contamination can be traced back to the initial water source, storage tanks, equipment, packaging, and the overall handling and storage of the ice.
In addition to these factors, the ice-making machines themselves can play a significant role in ice contamination. This can happen through contamination from the main water supply, plumbing issues that allow backflow from drains, and inadequate cleaning practices for the machines.
Furthermore, environmental contamination, which includes airborne contaminants and utensil-related factors, can also contribute to ice contamination. Ice is often stored in open containers or refrigerators alongside various food items, especially in bars and restaurants, making it susceptible to environmental pollutants. (1)
How to avoid ice contamination?
To keep ice safe and prevent contamination, always wash your hands using the correct hand-washing method before handling ice. Use utensils when working with ice and never touch ice with bare hands. Ensure that utensils used for serving ice, like ice scoops, are cleaned and sanitized.
Store these utensils in an area where they won’t be contaminated. Use specific containers for storing ice and make sure they are properly labeled. Clean and sanitize dedicated ice containers before using them.
Store ice containers upside down when not in use to prevent contamination. Regularly inspect and maintain ice machines to ensure they are functioning properly and are clean. Avoid storing items near ice machines that could contaminate them, such as garbage, recycle bins, or dirty dishes.
Lock ice machines to prevent tampering and do not handle ice if experiencing symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, or fever. (3)
Is there a risk in homemade ice?
No, homemade ice generally poses a minimal risk and often sets a standard for the microbial contamination of ice. This is because home production typically involves small quantities and upholds high standards of hygiene. (2)
What are the risks of consuming contaminated ice?
The primary danger associated with consuming contaminated ice is the potential for developing gastroenteritis. Ice has been directly implicated in numerous gastroenteritis outbreaks, whether through its direct use in chilling drinks or its indirect use in cooling freshly caught fish. Fortunately, the typical way ice cubes are used can mitigate this risk.
When ice cubes are incorporated into drink or beverage systems with varying levels of alcohol, CO2, pH, and antibacterial ingredients, the likelihood of contamination is reduced. (2)
Does eating ice have any other adverse effects?
Compulsive ice chewing, known as Pagophagia, has long been linked to iron deficiency anemia. It stands as the most prevalent form of compulsive consumption of non-food substances, known as pica. This condition is observed in up to 50% of individuals with iron-deficiency anemia.
Furthermore, the connection between Pagophagia and iron-deficiency anemia is well-documented across various adult age groups, races, and geographical regions.
Pagophagia tends to subside as the anemic condition is effectively treated with proper iron supplementation. Many physicians consider Pagophagia a specific indicator of iron deficiency anemia due to its strong association with the condition. (4)
Other FAQs about Ice that you may be interested in.
In this article, we have answered the question, “Can you get sick from eating ice” and also provided tips to prevent oneself from eating ice compulsively.
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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.
HUNT, Melissa G.; BELFER, Samuel; ATUAHENE, Brittany. Pagophagia improves neuropsychological processing speed in iron-deficiency anemia. Medical hypotheses, v. 83, n. 4, p. 473-476, 2014.