Ice formats include cube, flake and extruded (also called compressed or nugget). Cubes are a standard in restaurants; however, there has been a recent trend in using chewable ice. This is especially popular in more casual settings like pizza restaurants. A pizzeria’s service style — ranging from dine-in to carry out to a combination of both — will dictate how much ice the restaurant will require, the unit type, placement and more.
Ice machines used in pizza restaurants typically range from units that generate 110 pounds of ice per day to those producing 2,025 pounds every 24 hours. While operators can use a specialty calculator to assist in determining the amount of ice a restaurant needs, a general rule of thumb is to allow 3 pounds of ice per person. Water served with ice also will impact the amount a restaurant needs.
Restaurants with self-serve soda dispensers will likely choose an ice machine with a smaller footprint. Ice machines that sit on top of beverage dispensers offer more limited storage capacities than an ice bin at the bottom of a machine in the back of house. For this reason, operations may need to compensate with larger ice machines on top of dispensers to increase capacity.
Drop-in ice and beverage dispensers can be more easily filled by using ice storage bins. Models with carts are simply wheeled where ice is needed and poured into the drop-in dispenser using gravity as opposed to using a bucket and scoop for delivering ice. The carts not only save labor but are also safer and more sanitary since employees’ hands are not in contact with the ice.
In pizza restaurants making dough on-site from scratch, airborne yeast and flour can negatively impact ice machines. Airborne particulates can be especially damaging to cube ice machines that have open sump or well water. In this case, particulates in the air can cause bio film to grow in moist environments. For this reason, it’s recommended that units be closed off and sealed to the air.
Water quality represents another significant issue since equipment that utilizes water becomes susceptible to scale buildup. This can be even more significant for ice machines, where the water tables and chemistry are changing. New technology addresses water management challenges, with some expelling solids and virtually eliminating scale and others incorporating a device that inhibits bacteria growth.
The U.S. Department of Energy published a final rule regarding energy conservation standards for automatic commercial ice makers. The new standards took effect January 1, 2018, and include amended standards for cube-type automatic commercial ice makers with harvest capacities between 50 and 2,500 pounds of ice per 24-hour period. In addition, the new standards cover other types of batch machines, such as tube ice-type ice makers. Finally, the new standards extend coverage to all batch- and continuous-type automatic commercial ice makers with harvest capacities between 50 and 4,000 pounds of ice per 24-hour period.
Ice machines that don’t meet these standards cannot be sold in the U.S.
With a focus on aesthetics in the front of house, pizza operators seek to remove both heat and noise from the dining area. One innovation for self-serve fountain stations is moving ice through a long tube from the kitchen to the front-of-house serving area.
Another new development is bin level control, which adjusts ice production, depending on the need. Pizza operators can set the bin level lower during slow periods or weekdays and ramp it up on weekends. This also helps save energy and water while ensuring fresh ice is available.
An Eye on Sanitation
Ice machines, for the most part, operate day in and day out. These units require minimal labor for ice production and largely go unnoticed the majority of the time — until the staff opens the lid for the after-lunch ice run and finds an empty storage bin.
“Those ice runs are usually the only time anyone needs to touch the machine,” says George Loredo, service manager at PROTEX Restaurant Services, Inc., in Corpus Christi, Texas. “They are designed to operate that way. Let’s not forget, they do require periodic inspection, even though the machine is doing its job, to minimize the unavoidable repair costs.”
A lack of proper and regular maintenance leads to many of the potential ice machine failures within a unit’s warranty period. It’s important to note a manufacturer’s warranty agreement does not cover these maintenance issues. The same applies to improperly installed machines.
A few key factors can contribute to a long and productive service life for an ice machine. Start by having a qualified service agent install and service the machine. Not sure where to find a qualified service agent? Ask the manufacturer to provide a list of preferred service agents.
Operators should ask technicians to check a few key components, such as the storage bin, ice maker, remote condenser (if applicable), air filters, water filters, and the water supply and drain. Being aware of basic design needs, including clearances around the unit, ambient temperature limitations, water supply, drainage and water filtration needs, helps maximize service life, too.
When considering volume, keep in mind that ice makers are sized by 24-hour production ice weight to their respective ice storage bins. For example, an 800 pounds/24-hour ice maker will have an 800-pound ice storage bin. Size the equipment to meet the estimated daily usage. As a rule of thumb, an operation uses approximately a half bin of ice daily, and the machine should then fill the storage bin overnight.
Machines with logic displays inform the technician of any problems for quick fixes. These logic displays stop the machine after several errors occur. Technicians still need to diagnose and pinpoint the condition or part causing the error. Once diagnosed, the condition can be corrected, the part replaced and the ice machine tested.
Each ice batch can take anywhere from 14 to 45 minutes to produce ice, depending on make and model. Most companies test three full cycles to determine speed of production.
Operators should set up a preventative maintenance schedule. Although this will not eliminate all repairs, it will reduce the likelihood of equipment failure.
Nugget ice is compressed flake ice and continues to grow in popularity for soft drinks.
“Many like nugget ice machines as these units are pretty efficient and offer more production per dollar than cube ice machines,” says Dan Bendall, principal at FoodStrategy, Inc., located in Rockville, Md.
Operators can choose from air- or water-cooled ice machines. Air-cooled models have a heat transfer system that extracts heat from the water. “Instead of going into the air, it goes back into the water system,” says Bendall. “With closed-loop systems, the water is recirculated, saving on air conditioning.”
Ice machine sanitation is a big issue and one that garners much attention from health departments. “Ice is food, although most people don’t think about this,” says Bendall.
Pizza operators should keep clean ice scoops readily available and disinfect the ice bins regularly to retard bacteria growth.
Similar to warewashers with water hardness, ice machines require water filters. “We always utilize water filters in ice machines,” says Bendall. “Not only does this control lime, calcium and scale buildup, but it also makes heat transfer more efficient and better-tasting ice. Filters should be changed regularly.”