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As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants either shut down completely or else shifted to curbside/takeout service only. For the restaurants that closed their doors, some did not properly shut down their refrigeration equipment and ice machines, and regular maintenance was often deferred for those that shifted to takeout service only.

Once restaurants started reopening, smart owners asked contractors to clean and sanitize those ice machines before they were returned to service. In this market segment, however, ice machines are often not cleaned regularly under the best of circumstances. Now that profit margins are tighter than ever before, there is concern that some restaurant owners and managers may cut back on ice machine maintenance even more.


Scheduled Ice Machine Cleaning

At a minimum, Manitowoc Ice recommends a detailed cleaning, which includes descaling and sanitizing, twice per year; however, the frequency with which an ice machine should be cleaned depends on the environment and where the ice machine is located, said Murray Meyer, director of product marketing at Manitowoc Ice.

“If the water source is high in minerals (or total dissolved solids), descaling may need to be done more often,” he said. “If the environment has yeast, sugar, and/or flour in the air, the machine may need to be sanitized more frequently.”

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a heightened awareness of sanitization in hospitality and foodservice operations, so Manitowoc is stressing the importance of following their existing recommended cleaning steps and procedures for proper descaling and sanitizing.

Manitowoc Ice Machine.

DETAILED CLEANING: At a minimum, Manitowoc Ice recommends a detailed cleaning, which includes descaling and sanitizing the ice machine, twice per year.

“In the busy workplace, the recommended cleaning steps are often not followed or not done to the frequency that is needed,” said Meyer. “Operators are now paying closer attention to cleaning their machine correctly and looking for automated solutions that will save them time and money.”

For its Flaker and DCM ice machines, Hoshizaki recommends — at a minimum — that they be cleaned and sanitized every six months; for its Cuber products, the recommendation is for an annual cleaning and sanitizing. Of course, cleaning frequency depends on where the ice machines are located, as in certain areas, water conditions are worse, or else the ice machines may be exposed to grease or flour, said Rodd Burger, director of technical support at Hoshizaki.

“We would be happy if owners just did the minimum number of cleanings, but unfortunately, some customers just don’t do preventive maintenance.” he said. “A concern with COVID-19 is that everybody is strapped for cash, so preventive maintenance may be overlooked even more. But ice machines need to be regularly cleaned and sanitized, and that is especially the case if they have been shut down for a prolonged period of time.”


Maintenance for Ice Machines

If ice machines are not shut down properly, standing water may be left in the unit, and if that happens, there is an opportunity for mold and bacteria to grow. For that reason, Hoshizaki recently issued the following guidelines, which call for additional cleaning and sanitizing at startup:

1. Replace water filters before turning on the water.

2. Confirm water supply is on. (If water filtration system is utilized in the icemaker water supply, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for shutdown and restart.)

3. Confirm power supply is on.

4. Clean and sanitize the ice machine per the instructions for the particular unit. (Cleaning sheets, videos, and service providers can be found on the Hoshizaki website.)

5. Clean and sanitize the storage bin, or bin in ice and beverage dispenser, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. (Cleaning instructions for Hoshizaki bins can be found on Hoshizaki’s website.)

6. Turn on the ice machine.

7. Cubers: Make one batch and then discard ice. Flakers/Cubelets: Allow to run for 20 minutes, then discard ice.

8. Allow ice maker to run for 24 hours before business resumption in order to fill the storage bin.

Once ice machines are started up properly, then regular maintenance is required per the manufacturer’s specifications. For a thorough cleaning of its ice machines, Manitowoc suggests the following steps:

1. Turn the machine off.

2. Empty the ice in the bin.

3. Open hinged door. If ice is on the evaporator, use the manual harvest in the service menu to harvest ice.

4. Press the clean button on the machine, follow the on-screen prompts, select stop when done.

5. Add the descaler to the water tray when prompted, and let the machine do the work (10-minute wash, six 90-second independent rinses).

6. After the descaling cycle is complete (approximately 25 minutes), remove all the interior ice machine component parts, descale, and sanitize the parts and bin interior.

7. Reinstall all the components of the machine, spray the insides of the ice machine, food zone, and bin interior with diluted sanitizer and let air dry.

8. Press the clean button on the machine and select “make ice when finished.”

9. Add sanitizer to the water tray when promoted and let the machine do the work (10-minute wash, six 90-second independent rinses).

10. Close the door and walk away — the ice machine will automatically go into the ice making mode, saving time.

Preventive maintenance on an ice machine must include proper descaling and sanitizing on a regular basis, said Meyer.

“Owners can perform remedial or intermittent descaling and sanitizing between the deep cleanings by adding the descaler and sanitizer in the water trough and running through the clean cycles mentioned above (no parts removal necessary),” he said. “But in most cases, owners should do a deep cleaning once a year to get to the parts that are not touched by water.”

If regular descaling is not done, two things can happen to the ice machine, said Meyer. First, the evaporator will not harvest the ice, and it may cause freeze ups; and second, water lines and water distribution points can become scaled up, causing lack of water into the ice making process.

Proper sanitizing is also needed to keep the ice safe for customers. Cold, damp environments are ideal locations for bacteria to grow, and if the machine is not regularly sanitized, said Meyer, biofilm can grow — and in some cases show up as black specks on the ice.

“Doing both descaling and sanitizing will improve the longevity of a machine and improve the quality of the ice, so the product it cools tastes even better,” he said.

In addition to cleaning and sanitizing the ice machine, contractors should clean the exterior of the unit and perform any other additional maintenance, said Burger.

“This includes cleaning the condenser and looking for water leaks, oil stains, or anything else that could be a sign of a potential problem,” he said. “All these preventive maintenance measures are important in order to keep the ice machine working properly.”


Cleaning and Sanitizing

Ice machine manufacturers are always looking for ways to make their units easier to clean and sanitize, and many also offer additional devices that help do just that. Manitowoc, for example, offers LuminIce II, which is designed to control viruses in the air and on surfaces while inhibiting the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast in the food zone.

“This is a fully integrated, automatic, UV gas air solution that uses a combination of UV light with two wavelengths,” said Meyer. “The 254 nm wavelength sterilizes the incoming air, and the 185 nm filament creates a COD (Cold Oxygen Plasma) that has proven to guard against airborne viruses, as well as inhibit the growth of yeast spores and other bacteria.”

LuminIce II can be a factory-installed option on 26 Indigo NXT models, or it can be added as a plug-and-play aftermarket device. Once installed, the Indigo NXT automatically detects the device and generates a sanitation icon in the display. The icon shines blue if operating normally or changes to red, which indicates that the bulb needs to be replaced. LuminIce II can also be installed on the Neo® undercounter ice machine as an aftermarket solution.

“We also make our Indigo NXT ice machines easy to clean by including features such as a hinged front door, so it doesn’t have to be removed and put on a dirty floor,” said Meyer. “In addition, all internal parts are treated with the antimicrobial agent, Alpha-San®, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, and the food zone is front facing, so it is always accessible and visible for a thorough cleaning. We also seal our food zone with a thick rubber gasket both on the top and front panel door to keep out contaminants, and the component parts that need to be removed for a detailed descaling and sanitizing can be removed without tools in a matter of minutes.”

Ozone is also an effective sanitizer, and Hoshizaki offers an ozone generator that is placed directly in the water and therefore inhibits microbial growth on everything the water touches, including the water lines, drain, etc., said Burger. Even though the product works very well, he added that nothing replaces cleaning and sanitizing a machine.

Newer models of Hoshizaki’s ice machines also have CleanAssist, which does not require pre-mixing of the cleaning solution or sanitizer. Instead, the control board automatically dilutes the cleaner and bleach sanitizer in the ice machine, and the solution can be poured from the front of the machine, rather than from the top. The system then lets the operator know when to proceed to the next step.

In order to make its units easier to clean, Hoshizaki has decreased the number of parts in the water circuit, which results in fewer parts to clean, said Burger. These parts also “snap fit” together, so they are easier to take apart and put back together.

As restaurants start to reopen, owners should remember to have their ice machines cleaned and sanitized before opening their doors. And this should be done by a qualified contractor, said Burger.

“Restaurant owners have enough worries right now, just trying to open up again,” he said. “I would recommend that they leave the cleaning of their ice machines to a professional. And then have that professional continue to clean and sanitize the machine on a regular basis to keep it running safely and efficiently.”