What’s that Pink Stuff?

–by Andrea Moore, EHS

Occasionally while conducting inspections at food service establishments, I’ve encountered pink mold inside ice machines and ice chutes at beverage dispensing machines.  The term “pink mold” or “pink slime” covers several types of slimy stuff that are typically indicators of bacteria and mold growth.  Such growth may appear black, red, green, or other colors, and ice machines can be breeding grounds for it.  For example, food service establishments that cook fried chicken or bake fresh bread can have high levels of yeast in the air. Yeast can then make its way into your ice machine which can create an ideal environment for microbial grow. The interior of an ice machine is dark and damp, and the yeast is an enriched nutrient source which can create an environment suitable for pink mold growth. This mold can then contaminate the ice used in food preparation or consumer drinks. This is why ice machines need special care.

The presence of pink mold, or more accurately, biofilm, means that the microorganisms present are growing at an aggressive level.  Biofilm happens when cells start to stick to each other and to surfaces, thereby resulting in a buildup of bacterial slime. This is why it’s important to clean your ice machine more frequently than twice a year.  It is best to keep your restaurant’s ice machine cleaning schedule up-to-date to keep this dreaded pink slime from developing.

However, if you already see signs of pink mold, it is critical that you do a deep clean of your ice machine.  You may consider hiring a professional ice machine cleaning service to insure that it is properly cleaned, then be sure to start a more frequent cleaning schedule. When routinely cleaning your ice machine, always make sure to follow the manufacturer’s specifications for cleaning and sanitizing your ice machine.  

If growth in the ice machine is observed during an inspection, it is a 4 point violation that is cited under 4-2 B Food-Contact Surfaces: Cleaned & Sanitized on the inspection report, .  Per the Georgia Department of Public Health Rules and Regulations: Food Service 511-6-1.05(7)(b)(5)(iv):

(iv) In equipment such as ice bins and beverage dispensing nozzles and enclosed components of equipment such as ice makers, cooking oil storage tanks and distribution lines, beverage and syrup dispensing lines or tubes, coffee bean grinders, and water vending equipment [shall be cleaned]: (I) At a frequency specified by the manufacturer; or (II) Absent manufacturer specifications, at a frequency necessary to preclude accumulation of soil or mold.

Straight from the Field: Another Teachable Moment

By Parish Divinity, Environmental Health Specialist 3

The photo above is a good example of how not to store food contact equipment, utensils, and single service items. As you can see, this arrangement does not allow much room for cleaning the adjacent floors and walls. Additionally, storing items in this manner could provide harborage for a pest infestation (it can even help hide an infestation!).  This was a teachable moment during a change of ownership evaluation where I advised the restaurant owner to store their single use articles at least six inches off of the floor to prevent possible contamination and facilitate cleaning. 

During a food service inspection, this violation would be marked out of compliance on item number 14B – Utensils, equipment and linens: properly stored, dried, handled. If you have some challenged storage areas in your facility, now may be a good time to get them into compliance.