A commercial ice maker is a must in most restaurant kitchens, but many restaurant owners and kitchen managers are unaware that they need regular maintenance to perform well. The following tips can help you avoid an ice machine breakdown in the middle of the dinner rush, while also ensuring your ice doesn't have a funny flavor or pose a health risk.
Tip #1: Pick the right location
Just like in real estate, location matters when it comes to your ice machine. Don't place it right next to the hot ovens or dishwasher near the kitchen. Instead, have a separate alcove for the ice machine that protects it from extreme temperatures. Placing it near a heat source makes it work harder to stay cold. Just like a refrigerator, the ice maker should not be pushed right up against a wall, either, since it needs airflow around the cooling coils on the back.
Tip #2: Find the filters
Every ice maker has both air filters for the fans and a water filter. Locate these using the owner's manual or by contacting the manufacturer. In most cases, these can be removed and cleaned. Allow them to dry completely and then replace them. The frequency of cleaning varies between manufacturers, but erring on the side of caution and doing it once a month, should ensure good airflow and tasty ice.
Tip #3: Keep it sanitized
Regular sanitizing is a must for both health reasons and to keep the ice from developing a bad flavor. Sanitize the outside of the machine using your restaurant's preferred sanitizing or bleach solution every day. Make sure to wipe down the rubber gasket as well, since this is a prime spot for mold growth. The interior of the machine will also require draining and sanitizing at least twice a year. The exact frequency will vary depending on the health department regulations for your area.
Tip #4: Manage scoop usage
Proper usage is a must. Servers should always use an ice scoop to retrieve ice to ensure that the ice in the machine doesn't become tainted. There are in-machine scoop storage racks that you can purchase. The benefit here is that the scoop remains in the bin and frozen, so it doesn't have a chance to become warm or contaminated in the outside air. Keep an extra scoop on hand, as well, so you have a backup if the original scoop gets dropped or otherwise requires cleaning.
Tip #5: Keep it closed
Make sure the ice machine door is always closed between uses. Leaving it open means the motor and condenser have to work harder to keep the ice frozen. It also leaves the ice open to contaminants, such as dust, dirt, and food debris. This can affect the flavor and safety of the ice.
Talk to an ice maker manufacturer or service technician to find out more maintenance tips for your specific model.