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I saw a meme on a health page on facebook the other day that made me curious. It said something about ice from restaurants, machines and fast food locations in regards to health and that it should be completely avoided. Naturally, curious as I am I did some research and found that the meme was absolutely correct and there were multiple reasons to avoid ice in your water or drink from any establishment. Many of which surprised me.

The research surprised me, I mean who would think that an ice machine could pose potential health issues?

I found that ice machines that are not cleaned both regularly and thoroughly can spread germs and bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Shigella, and the Norwalk virus. Not only that but a microbial growth within the ice machine can create what’s known as a biofilm or “slime” buildup inside commercial ice-making machines which is full of bacteria and mold. The slime is black in color and is in the environment where the ice is produced and/or stored.

Because this biofilm of mold, bacteria and other potential germs, bacteria and infections micro-organisms is sitting in the machine it can spread. Where the ice is created and stored can be a breeding ground for more of it.

It is recommended that ice machines are cleaned 2-4 times a year to avoid these issues but that’s cleaning once every 3 months. It seems that some restaurants completely avoid cleaning their ice machines. Based on my research there are ice machine cleaning companies and websites and by reading online they tailor the conversation to something along the lines of “we know cleaning your ice machine is on your to do eventually list” and that is the way most restaurant owners and fast food locations may view it. Most people don’t see it as a big deal but the longer it isn’t cleaned, the more biofilm, germs, bacteria and immune weakening micro-organisms can grow, and get into the ice and water (or other drink) that you consume.

One 2011 study that focused on ice dispensers in Las Vegas food establishments found that 33.3 percent of the ice samples “exceeded the EPA limits set for heterotrophic bacteria concentration for drinking water” and 72.2 percent were “positive for presumptive coliform bacteria presence.

Beyond the bacteria, mold, salmonella, listeria, e. coli, shigella, norwalk virus, there’s even potentially more believe it or not. If the restaurant you’re visiting uses a hand scooper to put ice in the drinks the ice is also exposed to well, put plainly, fecal matter. In 2007, the Chicago Sun Times found that nearly 20% of 49 restaurants and hotel bars in Chicago had ice contaminated by high levels fecal coliform. A 15 year old in Florida actually died from contaminated ice because a restaurant employee didn’t wash their hands. This is rare, and most people have strong enough immunity to handle these things. This 15 year old must have had a compromised immune system at the time of this incident. Think about small children though, giving them a sip or two of ice water from a restaurant or fast food location may be much more harmful because their immune systems are not fully developed yet.

Fast food restaurants may be some of the worse. The Daily Mail actually collected ice from ten fast-food franchises — on the list… McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks among them. They determined that in six out of the ten locations, their ice cubes contained higher levels of bacteria than the water samples taken from toilet bowls at the same establishments.  WOW! Do you think that’s healthy to consume?

Additionally different medicine practices dating thousands of years back such as Ayurveda (Indian) and TCM (Chinese Medicine) recommend drinking warm water throughout the day for detoxification purposes. This does not mean go and grab warm murky water from a dirty pond as that will have some bacteria too! It means having tepid (luke warm) water, the temperature of the environment or taking that water and heating it up to drink with lemon, or tea.

The issue though becomes that restaurant owners and fast food joints may not be making this much of a priority. That means that you’re ingesting immune weakening micro-organisms simply by having ice in your drink. Quite a few reasons to skip the ice in your drink next time you’re out getting food, wouldn’t ya say?

Beyond this, I personally do not drink anything (especially tap water for various reasons) while i’m eating anyway. Drinking tap water dilutes digestive enzymes that disrupt your digestive process. For improved metabolism it is best to drink before and after your meal as opposed to during your meal. Please share this information, it’s not widely publicized enough.

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Source: Image: wikimedia