Chances are your ice is safe, but there are a few things to consider the next time you ice down your drink.
Can Ice make us Sick?
- Water Source. Potable water sources used to make ice can become dirty or contaminated; for example, if plumbing does not meet safety standards.
- Machines Used to Make and Store Ice. It’s easy for mold and slime to build up inside ice machines. These conditions can allow bacteria to grow and contaminate the ice product.
- Ice Handling Procedures. Bacteria can get into ice as a result of contaminated hands or utensils. Even with a clean ice scoop, if it is placed with the ice after use - the germs from the person’s hands can transfer to the ice.
The University of Florida conducted a study of over 100 bags of ice purchased from various supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations. They found that 1 in 6 bags tested contained dangerous levels of bacteria, mold, yeast and e-coli. (Reported in the May 28, 2012 issue of “First for Women” Magazine)
Studies have found that once ice becomes contaminated, the bacteria can survive while frozen. Researchers from the University of Texas found that Salmonella, E. coli and Shigella all survived frozen in ice cubes when tested. While it was found that the longer ice was frozen, the more bacteria were killed; some bacteria always survived. The Shigella bacteria, a diarrhea causing disease which typically gets into ice as a result of unclean hands, was found to be the most likely bacteria to survive frozen in quantities high enough to cause sickness.
Noroviruses (food poisoning) can also survive frozen. In 1987, 5,000 people fell ill to food poisoning after consuming beverages with contaminated ice in an outbreak in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Do Regulations Protect Against Bad Ice?
The regulations and inspection standards for ice vary based on source.
Interstate Packaged Ice: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates packaged ice in interstate commerce as a food, just like other foods. When FDA investigators inspect packaged ice manufacturing plants, they look at such things as:
- Whether the water supply is safe and sanitary (e.g., water that meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for drinking water),
- Whether the facility plumbing prevents contamination of the ice water supply or stored ice,
- Whether the manufacturing facility and grounds are maintained in sanitary condition, and
- Whether safe hygiene practices are used by employees.
Small Ice Producers: The FDA does not regulate or inspect small packaged ice producers or food service establishments that make ice for direct consumption. However, retail food stores and food service establishments are subject to regulation by State and local authorities, which typically model their regulations off the FDA Food Code. The nature and frequency of inspections to ensure the purity of water and safe handling practices used by small ice producers is determined locally.
Tips to Prevent Against Contaminated Ice:
To ensure your ice is safe and clean:
- When purchasing ice, look for bags that are properly closed and secure (no drawstring ties). Also look for the International Packaged Ice Association (IPIA) symbol, which regulates strict quality and safety standards for manufactured ice.
- Don’t use ice from a cooler that is being used to keep drinks and food cold.
- Avoid touching ice with dirty hands or glasses.
- Be careful of icing your beverages while overseas. The different levels of bacteria and parasites in the drinking water (even in Europe) could upset your stomach.
- Don’t assume that alcoholic drinks will kill germs that may be lurking in ice cubes.
Outside the US, many countries drink their beverages luke-warm because of fears of what might be lurking inside their ice. We have much less concern in the US, and thankfully so. During the hot summer months, there’s nothiing like an ice cold drink to quench our thirst. We just need to be a little smart. If you’ve had any interesting experiences with ice, write us…we’d love to hear about it.
- FDA Regulates the Safety of Packaged Ice, FDA.gov
- Ice A Culprit In `La Turista` Cases, Science Digest, Sun Sentinel.com
- Norwalk Virus Group, Biology Daily.com
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