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Spec Check: Ice Machines

The vast majority of foodservice operators require an ice machine to help chill beverages and hold food at safe temperatures. But because ice can touch many parts of a foodservice operation, selecting the proper unit requires some thought and planning. Here is a quick look at several key factors foodservice operators and their supply chain partners should consider when specifying an ice machine.

Size Matters
Probably the most common mistake made when specifying an ice maker is selecting one that is too small. To help rectify this, most ice machine manufacturers have their own calculators that can help foodservice operators and their supply chain partners determine how big of a unit the location requires.

Many foodservice professionals will use the following guidelines as a starting point to help determine the right size unit for a given operation.

  • Fast Food Restaurants: Use two ounces of ice per every eight to ten ounce drink. Drinks in the 12- to 16- ounce range use four ounces of ice. And 20-ounce beverages use six ounces of ice.
  • Full-Service Restaurants: Five pounds of ice per seat or 1.7 pounds of ice per customer.
  • Bars: Three pounds of ice per customer.
  • Supermarkets: Average 35 pounds of ice per cubic foot.
  • Healthcare: Seven pounds of ice per bed and two pounds of ice per employee.

In addition to these guidelines, it is important to look at all areas of a foodservice operation that use ice. Beverages tend to represent the most common area that comes to mind when examining ice consumption, but it is important to note that foodservice operators may use ice in display applications such as in a salad bar or to cool food in the back of the house. As a result it is important to understand how each employee uses ice in executing their duties and how much ice they actually use.

Beyond understanding current ice needs, it is advisable to look ahead to any future demands for ice. For example, are there any new drink programs coming on board in the months ahead? If so, it is important to estimate how much additional ice these programs will require.

Workflow will help dictate whether a foodservice operation needs one large unit or multiple smaller ice machines scattered throughout the operation. Also, it is common for a foodservice operator to buy an ice machine based on the average amount of ice their business uses but request a larger bin that holds more ice in order to meet peak demands.

Location. Location. Location.
After selecting the right-sized ice machine, one of the next steps is to find the proper location for the unit. Location of utilities is a critical factor when placing an ice machine. Power, water and drainage should all be within six feet of the unit to ensure it functions properly.

Many foodservice operators are inclined to place an ice machine in a back closet or some other remote place. It is important to note that ice machines need to be in an area where the ventilation and air quality is good and staff can easily access the unit to remain productive.

Ice machine manufacturers recommend keeping the unit away from cooking equipment, too. Placing an ice machine next to cooking equipment will mean some of the air pulled in will be greasy or dirtier and the unit will require more frequent cleaning. If it is in an area that's too hot, say next to an oven, the unit will have to work much harder to remove the heat from the water that ultimately creates ice.

Food Safety
The concept of food safety has a dual role when it comes to ice. Most foodservice professionals understand the role ice can play in helping keep food at safe temperatures. What many fail to realize, though, is that ice is food and it comes in regular contact other food items. For this reason, staff should wash their hands before handling the scoop and refrain from chilling other items in the bin.

Operators often overlook the need to regularly clean and service these machines. This problem is so prevalent that when making an ice machine-related service call often the first action a technician will take is to clean and sanitize the unit, which will address any number of issues. A properly maintained ice machine can last anywhere from 7 to 10 years, depending on usage and a few other variables. Machines that are not properly maintained tend to last four to six years.

Because they are cold and dark, things like to grow inside ice machines, which means regular cleaning and sanitation is necessary. Exactly how often the unit will require cleaning depends on a number of factors such as usage and air quality.