It depends where you buy your ice. The FDA considers ice to be a food, so safe storage, handling, and display practices apply. If you’re buying a bag of ice at a convenience store, and it has been made in the back room and scooped into generic bags, the risk may be higher.
The FDA’s rules, says press office spokesperson Michael L. Herndon, require that:
• Ice must be made from potable, drinking-quality water. These standards are equivalent to EPA drinking water standards.
• Commercially processed ice as well as ice that is produced and bagged on-site for sale in stores or restaurants must be labeled with the name of the product, the company, the address, and the weight.
• Ice machines are considered “food contact surfaces” and must be cleaned and sanitized for safety.
• Scoops are to be used instead of hands (no bare hand contact with ice) or glasses (glass could break and contaminate the ice).
• There are plumbing requirements for commercial ice machines to prevent backup of waste water or sewage into the ice bin.
But how you handle it also matters. Most documented sickness caused by ice has been attributed to contaminated hands passing germs to the ice. So wash your hands.
The International Packaged Ice Association (IPIA) fights for all bagged ice to be pristine and wants more government oversight. Since manufacturing guidelines vary from state to state, “it’s a little bit of a free-for-all,” says Jane McEwen, executive director of IPIA. But still, says McEwen, “it’s rare to find a documented case of outbreaks.”
To ensure you pick up a good-quality bag of ice next time you’re at the store, check for a manufacturer’s name and address or phone number on the bag (McEwen says “back room” ice-makers often buy generic bags that don’t meet federal labeling guidelines and may not even be made of food-safe materials), and look for a logo from one of the ice manufacturing associations.