Slime Slops Into Sodas, Manager Too Busy To Clean Ice Machine

Reader Nora works at a restaurant where the new manager is too busy to mitigate the black slime growing in the ice machine, even though sometimes it plops into people’s drinks. At left is a picture she took with her cellphone of the mold colony.

She writes:

A customer found some kind of black gunk in an ice cube after trying to get a fountain drink. We were aware then after checking the ice machine that there was mold growing inside. The problem was, how would we clean it? We would have to turn on the machine, let all of the ice melt, clean it, and then have to wait for it to make more ice.

There have been numerous occasions of people finding black stuff floating in their drink. About a 3 months ago, the company assigned a new district manager for our store. On her first visit she did an inspection of the store, and even commented on the mold problem.

I’ve tried saying something to our new manager, but he says something along the lines of its not his number one concern right now, and we’ll get around to it when thing arent so hectic (we recently switched operating systems and everyone is still adjusting, but thats not really a valid excuse). I even went as far as to make a fake e-mail address, make up a story about finding black stuff in my cup, and that I wanted to inform them so something could be done. That was over a month ago with no response.

I just want our store to be clean and fit for customers to get ice and not have to worry about whether or not theres mold in it. I have attached some (crappy) pictures I took with my cell phone.

Gross! Slime! In people’s cups! It’s not going to harm anything, just your bottom line when customers find slime in their drinks and they tell their friends.

moslime.jpgFirst off, put in one giant order of ice to your distributor to hold you over while you clean the machine. It’s pretty cheap. You don’t have to sit around waiting for all the ice inside the machine to melt, hot water will greatly speed the process!

You’ll want to clean out the ice machine and sanitize the interior and the lines using quaternary ammonium (QAC) at 200 parts per million. The process houstontx.gov recommends is to first wipe the condensation from the ice machine surfaces. Then take a clean cloth, moisten it with sanitizer, wring it so it won’t drip, and then wipe down the surfaces.

They also recommend cleaning out the entire inside of the machine as many times as twice a week.

If just mentioning this method for getting rid of the slime doesn’t work, present your manager with an action plan to make it easier for them to say “yes.” Outline the new cleaning procedure and price out the supplies and the rate at which they’ll need to be purchased. Volunteer to lead a training session showing the other employees the new ice machine cleaning procedure. Add references to official gov and business reports on dealing with the slime in the ice machine problem. Describe a scary pyramid of people that shows the negative effects of one customer finding black gunk in their soda and then telling five people about it and then they tell five people, etc.

The famed late consumer reporter Marvin Zindler made a career out of embarrassing local restaurants by reading bad health reports on air, accompanied by a custom “SLIME IN THE ICE MACHINE!” jingle. Show your manager a few of his videos on YouTube to drive home the impact of bad publicity.
You’ll take the burden of dealing with the issue off your manager’s back, get the slime problem taken care of and distinguish yourself as an employee with initiative.

If your manager turns down your plan and doesn’t take action, there’s always the option of making an anonymous report to the local health department.

Good luck!

Comments

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  1. Short_Circuit_City says:

    Having worked at a bar I can say that when you’re ice machine is not in service, you’re f*$ked. That said, I massive ice order to your beer distributor is not hard and is pretty inexpensive. Unlike having a machine die during service after the distributor has closed, in this instance they can plan ahead. An ounce of prevention…

  2. Southern says:

    I miss Marvin Zindler. :( Used to watch the 6:00 news every day just to catch his report.

    “Have a good weekend, good golf, good tennis, or whatever makes ya happy!”

    • GearheadGeek says:

      I first encountered his broadcasts when I was at A&M in the 80s. I think Dom DeLuise was funnier spoofing Zindler (Texas has a whorehouse in it!) but Zindler was entertaining, in a blue-sunglasses kind of way. The first memory that echoed in my head when I read the headline, even before clicking on it, was Zindler crying “Slime in the ice machine!”

    • obits3 says:
    • scouts honor says:

      Me too. I grew up watching him and Dave Ward every night. Zindler was an original. That guy did great work, helping people out with consumer issues and social security snafus.

  3. PhineasNanerpuss says:

    Stock ice bins, clean machine, takes lIke an hour tops. You’re also approaching winter, should be a low demand for ice.
    Is this letter in regards to a starbucks? Seems kinds like it with the job titles and recently rolled out point of sale registers.

    • angienessyo says:

      I was thinking the same as they just switched over to Simphony register systems

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Except Nora might work in an area that is warm enough year-round that people consistently order cold beverages. It’s winter in some parts of the country, but it still stays warm in areas that don’t experience much of a true winter, where every day is in the 40s and 50s.

    • Gramin says:

      Since when does Starbucks sell fountain soda??? Either (a) you’ve never been into a Starbucks or (b) you didn’t RTFA.

      • HeroOfHyla says:

        I’ve had diet sodas from Starbucks several times. It’s been a while since I’ve ordered one (the syrup mix is a bit off or something, not my favorite), but I know they have, at least a few times, served soda at Starbucks.

      • PhineasNanerpuss says:

        Ever hear of a licensed store? inside a Target, Kroger, other store, no? some of them have fountain soda dispensers. Thanks for being a jackass just the same.

  4. Alvis says:

    Enjoy your Legionnaires’.

  5. IT-Princess: I work in IT, you owe me $1 says:

    Isn’t it important to know where this is? It sounds like the OP is trying to get the story out so something is done about this particular situation.

    • kc2idf says:

      She is also trying to (a) improve the situation there (publicity wouldn’t help her here) and (b) keep her job, which in turn, means that she must (1) not be considered adversarial to the operation by her employer and (2) help to ensure that her employer remains viable so that there actually exists a job for her to keep.

  6. adrew says:

    Post a comment on the company’s official Facebook page. It seems like complaints made there rise to the top pretty quickly, better than Twitter. Someone complained about poor service at a regional taco chain, and the Facebook rep responded within a few minutes:

    “I just forwarded this to our Vice President of Operations over that area so he can personally follow up with that store. This is simply unacceptable. Thank you for bringing this to our attention so quickly.”

    Then, 5 minutes later…

    “I know for a fact that the VP just contacted the store. That store will not make that mistake again. :) Your quick feedback is very much appreciated.”

  7. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    Why is calling the health department a afterthought option? And “It’s not going to harm anything”? Hate to be on record as saying that when somebody has some kind of allergic reaction to the mold.

    Call the Health Department now, OP.

    • kc2idf says:

      I would presume that she wants to keep her job. That means that she needs not be perceived as adversarial, and it means that she needs there to exist a job to keep. You don’t know her situation; she may have people depending on her bringing home a meagre paycheque.

      • Serisent says:

        I’m nearly certain that she could call it in as an anonymous tip. Also, isn’t there such a thing as whistleblower laws that might apply here?

  8. chaesar says:

    dont use hot water to melt ALL the ice, you can scoop out most of it

  9. sirwired says:

    Call the Health Dept. They’ll stop by and have that written up in a jiffy.

  10. apple420 says:

    Having worked in fast food this doesn’t surprise me. I once found a dead mouse in the drainage pipe of the ice machine while I was cleaning it after we got complains about bugs in the drinks. I don’t work there anymore, but when I go back to eat I don’t get the drinks. And usually if I have a choice between a bottled soda or fountain, I will choose the bottled soda.

    • Rena says:

      …you still eat there?

      • apple420 says:

        Yea sure. I worked at 4 different stores in the same fast food fried chicken chain. I found them all to be clean and they would work to fix their problems. I was always afraid if I worked at a food place I wouldn’t want to eat there anymore, but that was not the case.

  11. deadandy says:

    If anyone thinks this is an uncommon situation, I advise you check out the web site for your county health inspector some time. You can usually search by restaurant name and see all of their reports. Slime mold in the ice bin is one of the most common citations.

  12. Scuba Steve says:

    Stuff like this shouldn’t happen at places with closing times, and it shouldn’t happen at places without them either.

    The manager refuses to look at the option that someone will have to come in late, shut down the machine, clean it out, and start it back up. Before someone gets sick.

    It should have lasted a day before it was fixed, tops.

  13. Mooneyes says:

    I worked at a pizza joint and cut my hand on the ice. I didn’t think ice was so dangerous. So a little bit of blood got in the ice. My solution was to scoop the blood ice out. It was not acceptable solution to the supervisor and I had to clean the ice machine out (with bleach). Sure it was a hassle but it couldn’t have taken more than 30 minutes to an hour. I actually learned a thing or two about food safety there. The seating areas were a little gross, but the kitchen was clean.

    • MrEvil says:

      At least you learned something from it. And yes, cleaning the entire machine out even when just a small small area was contaminated with blood is standard procedure.

    • d0x360 says:

      So you wouldnt mind if someone had cut themselves on an ice machine you would be using yourself? Its ok if they just remove the ice that has blood on it? Come on man you cant be serious!? Blood bourne pathogens can spread to areas that dont have actual blood on them.

  14. Gulliver says:

    Take the initiative and clean it out. If you get fired from your job for cleaning an ice machine, it would be pretty easy to have a new restaurant hire you when the surrounding publicity of “manager fires worker fro cleaning ice machine” is reported. Having run restaurants for many years, one thing I hated was an employee asking about things that should be obvious. If there is no soap in the washroom, get some. It is not always the maintenance guy or janitorial persons job to do everything that you feel is beneath you.

  15. Angus99 says:

    Let me ask an honest question, and display my ignorance at the same time. Based on what I’ve read here and elsewhere, ice machines are functional plague pits. Why don’t we have the same problem with ice makers and ice bins in home refrigerators? I clean my periodically, but have never found this kind of contamination. Am I not looking in the right place, or are the two things not really the same?

    • Doubts42 says:

      There aren’t 20 or 30 different dirty hand going into your home ice bin. It is also probably not located under a counter where food and debris get brushed into it. Finally your home ice maker uses far less water and when that water melts/leaks at home it doesn’t go directly into a floor drain so you are more likely to notice and fix the leak.

      • Angus99 says:

        Thank you, that makes sense – I’ve never worked with a commercial unit, and that helps me understand the differences.

        • baconsnake says:

          Commercial units are also designed to melt the ice on the bottom of the hopper so that there’s a continuous supply of fresh ice if it doesn’t all end up being used.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      I’ve noticed that commercial ice machines that I’ve dealt with in the past tend to operate at slightly higher temperatures than typical home freezers; ice in my freezer stays frozen solid unless the power goes out or someone leaves the door open. But an ice machine at a fast food place often dispenses ice that is wet and melty.

      The reservoir where the ice waits to be dispensed tends to have a layer of water at the bottom, and depending on how the dispenser works, that layer of water might remain undisturbed long enough to support a healthy slime crop.

      A good compromise are the ice makers that dispense ice into a lower bin which is kept cold enough that the ice does not melt after being made. But in situations where the ice storage is constantly being opened and used, it can be difficult to maintain the necessary temperature.

      • Gulliver says:

        If restaurant ice were colder it would be a huge solid brick of ice. The idea is to allow easy scooping of ice and fill glasses easily

    • Rachacha says:

      Commercial ice makers operate completely differently than the ones at home. Commercial ice makers are often located in the kitchen or a storage room that is usually pretty warm. The way that commercial units typically make ice is by running a small amount of water consistently over a large frozen metal plate. the water freezes instantly and slowly builds up volume until the ice gets so heavy that it falls into the bin below. Having a moist warm environment is breeding grounds for mold, mildew and other yucky things. As others have said, once the ice falls in the container below, it immediately begins to melt slowly, so more moisture and potential standing water.

      Compare that to a typical home icemaker where the ice maker and storage container are inside the freezer. Waler is allowed to flow into the tray only when needed, so there is not a constant flow of water. As everything remains in a cold environment, the growth of yucky things is slowed, so you don’t tend to notice it as much.

  16. framitz says:

    Report the issue to the local health department, that might get an inspector on site.

  17. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    As a life-long native Houstonian, I will always be petrofied of SLIMEEE!! IN THE ICE MACCHIIINNNEEEE!!

    RIP Marvin, you were awesome.

  18. d0x360 says:

    They will clean the mold that could make people sick when its less hectic? How about when they are CLOSED. It doesnt take long to shut an ice machine off and remove the ice then clean it and have it make more ice! How long does the water take to freeze, a couple hours? Why not clean the machine at night after closing then turn it back on so there is plenty of ice in the morning?

    this is just nasty! if they arent willing to clean that, what else dont they clean?

    • Tunacrab says:

      Uh, yeah it does. it is a 2+ hour nasty-ass job. The mold grows in the internals of the machine. you have to take it apart a bit. Most servers / kitchen guys are too lazy or uninformed to do it, and they will constantly argue over who’s job it is, BOH or FOH. When someone eventually does it, they do it half-assed job and the mold comes back in a week. You need a professional to do this job unless you really know what you are doing.

  19. Tunacrab says:

    I’ve worked in probably 10 or so restaurants, and been in the kitchens or over 30. The Ice machine slime is a problem in every single one I have encountered. Seriously, there is no getting away from it. it just requires a cleanup with bleach two or three times a year. Most smart operators lease their machines for this very reason… because they will come service/clean it for free. I worked in one restaurant where everything was paid for (stoves, ovens, refrigeration units, freezers, grills, fryers) except the ice machine and the dish machine. When asking the owner why he chose to lease these two items, when he could clearly afford to own then, he explained: “They always need service. It costs me far less to lease those items because free service is a phone call away. Everything else pretty much runs forever, save the occasional compressor replacement.”

    Smart operator.

  20. Mulysa says:

    I grew up not getting ice in my soda. My mom worked in fast food for a while, and told us a few horror stories. I got used to no ice rather easily.
    This stuff happens more than it should.

  21. bouch42 says:

    I owned a bar and had this issue… Which was fixed the second I seen the black nasty stuff in my ice. Easy fix, run hot water in the ice. Once all the ice is melted, sanitize, sanitize and sanitize. In a day our 3x6x3 ice bin was 75% full…. With clean ice.

  22. invisibelle says:

    This is why I am paranoid and won’t get ice at any restaurant that doesn’t seem extremely clean.

  23. Pax says:

    A customer found some kind of black gunk in an ice cube after trying to get a fountain drink. We were aware then after checking the ice machine that there was mold growing inside. The problem was, how would we clean it? We would have to turn on the machine, let all of the ice melt, clean it, and then have to wait for it to make more ice.

    You have GOT to be fucking kidding me!

    Go get a friggin’ bucket and a shovel. Turn the machine off, DIG THE FRIGGIN’ ICE OUT INTO THE BUCKET. Clean and sterilise the goddamned icemaker. Run a bleach solution through all the tubing and such, while you’re at it.

    While you rinse and dry the mchine, send someone to a gas station or convenience store to buy a half-dozen 5-pound bags of ice, and FILL THE MACHINE WITH THAT.

    Turn machine back on, congratulate yourself on a job well done, and dump the partly-melted, slime-covered ice down a drain somewhere.

    IT’S NOT FRIGGIN’ ROCKET SCIENCE, DAMMIT.

  24. gman863 says:

    My only question: Why doesn’t Wayne Dolcifino carry on this tradition?

    Wayne’s investigative reporting is excellent. Since Marvin trained and passed the investigative journalism torch to him at KTRK, I think it would be a fitting tribute for him to bring back the Friday Night reports, complete with “Slime In The Ice Machine”.

  25. sopmodm14 says:

    wtf ?

    i’d call dept of health ASAP