ICE ICE BABY: The type of ice to use is an important first step to consider. There are two basic types of ice made by two different types of machine processes.
Everyone has ice machine horror stories. Who hasn't had a machine that just stopped working right before a big event, or how their machine couldn't keep up with demand? Most ice shortage headaches are avoidable by proper equipment selection, sizing, and maintenance. Problems with continual service calls are also often avoidable with proper maintenance and the help of some new user-friendly accessories available on some machines. This month, we will examine the types of icemakers and bins available and give some sizing guidelines and information about some new features for the equipment.
The type of ice to use is an important first step to consider. There are two basic types of ice made by two different types of machine processes. The classic ice type for beverages is cube ice. Cube ice is clear and appealing for beverages. Commercial icemakers produce ice in a somewhat different way than you do at home for better quality and much higher production.
Flake ice is the other main ice type. Flakes are ideal for rapid beverage cooling but tend to water down the drink too much for most customers. Flaked ice can be used in beverages, but most consumers tend to prefer cubes. Cubes tend to melt slower than flakes. Flake ice, however, does have an important place in the back of the house. Flaked ice chills a product quickly and helps hold items like fresh seafood and chicken.
You may also want to consider a relatively new hybrid ice known as compressed nugget ice. This ice is not as crystal clear as cubes but is hard and slower to melt than flaked ice. The product is formed in an easy to chew sized nugget, which is desired by many customers for beverages, especially in quick service applications. Nugget ice uses less water and significantly less electricity than producing cubes, making them less costly to make. The nugget machines are also a bit more compact and require less maintenance.
Sizing Ice Makers. Once you choose the ice type, you must determine what size ice maker will best suit your operation. Ice needs are rarely the same in any two operations. Requirements will fluctuate depending on the type of operation, day of the week and season. While it is difficult to predict, there are a few guidelines for ice usage at the end of this article. These usage amounts include ice melting in the bin and waste. It also includes other ice uses not going directly to the customer like the flaked ice applications noted above.
Once the number of pounds of daily ice production is determined, you then need to match the production need with a machine. Some of the production claims can be misleading if you don't know what to look for. Be careful to note that many manufacturers' ice-making claims are based on a 50°F water temperature and 70°F air temperature around the icemaker. These temperatures are often unrealistic since in many areas incoming water temperature exceeds 50°F, especially in the summer when ice needs are greatest and the air temperature may exceed 70°F.
As a rule of thumb, a 10°F air temperature increase may reduce daily ice production by 10% when using an air-cooled machine to cool the refrigeration compressor and condenser system. In addition, the higher room temperature will melt ice in the bin quicker, requiring more ice making capacity to replenish and fill the bin. The use of water-cooled icemakers, especially for larger machines, can reduce the amount of heat the icemaker itself adds to the kitchen. The amount of heat generated by air-cooled machines is significant, especially if located in a small confined area or a space you may be trying to air-condition for the comfort of kitchen staff.
How to Cool. The choice of an air-cooled or water-cooled machine is an important one. The air-cooled condenser is cost effective and involves no added water costs. In most areas water-cooled machines must be on closed-loop systems, meaning no water can be dumped down a drain. A closed-loop and cooling tower may or may not be feasible in your store, however.
In addition to dispersing less heat than an air-cooled machine, the water-cooled system does have some significant advantages in machine efficiency. A water-cooled maker's electrical consumption is generally less when compared with a similarly sized air-cooled machine. Water-cooled units are also quieter for areas where noise is a factor. If water-cooling is practical in your operation, use it.
A variation of the air-cooled system is a remote condenser unit that offers some advantages of its own. The remote unit takes the biggest heat producing component, the condenser, out of the icemaker and your store altogether. The remote approach does not require water and removes most of the heat from the service area. The condenser can be located up to about 50 feet away, perhaps on the roof. Remote icemakers are also quieter than typical machines because some of the machinery has been relocated. Tightly packed serveries are a good application for remote equipment because of the reduced noise and heat.
Critical Factors. Here are two last items of importance to make sure you continue to provide quality ice. The first is never to underestimate the importance of a water filter for your icemaker. Water filters condition incoming water, reduce the machine's necessary cleaning frequency, allow top equipment performance and improve the taste quality of your ice. Lime and mineral build up will be greatly reduced inside your maker if you use a filter and replace it frequently.
The second important factor for quality ice is to think about ice as a food you sell. As such, icemakers need to be sanitized regularly so you serve a safe consumable product. Several manufacturers now make it easier to keep the ice and water contact surfaces of the machines cleaned and sanitized through automatic systems built-in for your convenience. Even if you have the automatic cleaning options, still set up and perform a regular internal cleaning and maintenance schedule or contract with a service agency to do the work for you.
Maintaining your icemaker properly is critical to productivity, food safety, and quality ice. The most important thing to remember about your ice maker is to choose the machine that best meets your needs and then take care of it.
Here are a few broad guidelines to consider when determining the proper ice maker size to buy. The machine to fit your operation may vary.
Restaurants 2 lbs. flaked/cubed ice per person
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 301-926-8181.