On average, American consumers buy four bags of packaged ice each year, usually in the summer months.
Locally we see packaged ice in cubes and blocks. But no matter what the shape or the source, ice is considered a food by the FDA or Food and Drug Administration. If it is made in one state and sold in another, packaged ice is regulated, as a food. FDA rules require that packaged ice must be produced with properly cleaned and maintained equipment from water that is safe and sanitary, and that it is stored and transported in clean and sanitary conditions. That’s just the first step.
To avoid a summer bummer, make sure you handle packaged ice safely and treat it like it's a food. That is the second step. Here are some tips:
At Home - Use clean, non-breakable utensils to handle ice, such as tongs or an ice scoop. Avoid touching ice with unwashed hands or using a clear glass to scoop the ice. There is a chance for the glass to break and leave pieces of broken glass in the ice that can hurt someone. Scooping ice with dirty hands also transfers germs to the ice and that that can make people sick.
Store ice only in clean and sanitized containers that are safe for storing food. If you have an ice maker in your refrigerator, wash it out a couple times during the year, more often if people reach into the ice maker with unwashed hands.
For Picnics or Parties make sure your cooler is cleaned with soapy water and rinsed with a sanitizing solution made with one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of lukewarm water. Let the container air-dry or pat it dry with fresh paper towels. Do this after every use or before using if the cooler has been in storage.
When raw foods are packed with loose ice in a cooler the food should be wrapped securely to prevent water from the melting ice from cross-contaminating the foods in the cooler. For example, juices from raw meat could be carried to vegetables or fruit that will be eaten raw. Pack food like raw meat that has the highest risk of contaminating other foods at the bottom of the cooler. Pack the ready to eat foods like raw veggies, fruit, pre-cooked meats, salads and canned drinks near the top of the cooler.
Two other important tips to remember: 1) if you are planning to use ice in drinks, put that ice in a separate bag in a separate cooler and then use ice scoops or tongs so that dirty, unwashed hands are not introducing bacteria that can make people sick into the ice. This is especially important if you have young children, the elderly or people who are immune compromised attending the picnic or party.
Never use ice from a cooler that is used to cool raw foods, canned or bottled drinks where people touch ice with unwashed hands. 2) Avoid dropping the bagged ice on a dirty floor, cement or the ground because it creates holes in the bag which can introduce harmful bacteria. Dirt can get on the outside of the bag and when the bag is emptied into a cooler, the dirt can fall off the bag and contaminate the ice and whatever else the ice touches. Or dirt and germs can get to the ice through the little holes that are made when the plastic breaks open when it is dropped. The ice can also be contaminated this way and people do not realize that.
People who are at risk the most for food borne illnesses include:
*Young children - 9 years and younger
*the Elderly - 65 years and older
*People who are Immunocompromised: chronic illness, diabetic, pregnant or nursing, going through cancer treatment, recovering from surgery... Since it is hard to really know for sure, the best bet is to simply treat everyone as if they are at risk for food borne illnesses and take all the precautions you can.