Here's Why Ice Machines Are A Restaurant Health Inspector's #1 Suspect

Whether or not we like to think about it, the restaurants we love do indeed go through health inspections, and they may not always pass with flying colors. Or, even worse, they do pass, but then customers later find gross things in their fast food orders, like dead rodents and fingernails.

No matter the state of the restaurant, performing these health inspections is no easy feat, and inspectors must meticulously follow a checklist of common safety violations. They'll make sure raw and cooked meats are stored separately and properly, and verify that cross-contamination isn't an issue. They'll check that foods are being cooked to the right temperatures (beef to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, etc.) so customers don't get sick.

Health inspectors will also ensure that employees are washing their hands and keeping surfaces clean -– including surfaces that may not be obvious at first glance. In fact, the inner surfaces of an ice machine, which you may never have thought to clean, can be one of the dirtiest spots in a restaurant.

Why are ice machines so dirty inside?

If you've ever heard that you shouldn't get ice in your drink at a restaurant, you're about to find out why. Sorry about that. The problem lies with the ice machines themselves and the fact that they're difficult to clean, meaning sanitation happens infrequently, if at all.

As one Midwest-based health inspector explained to Mental Floss, the parts of ice machines more likely to grow mold and collect bacteria are also in unexpected places, so neither restaurant employees nor maintenance personnel are likely to notice. Once these "biofilms" appear, they're hard to remove, and may lead to discoloration or weird flavoring of the ice, per Food Safety Magazine. Even worse, the kinds of bacteria growing in these films –- such as listeria -– can be 1,000 times more difficult to kill than they usually would, as the biofilm offers a shielding effect.

While health inspectors can do their best to catch these nasty ice machines and stress the importance of keeping them clean, the only thing we can really do as restaurant patrons is go to restaurants we trust or simply ask for no ice in our drinks. Who wants a watered-down Coke, anyway?