We all know how refreshing it is to down a drink packed full of ice on a hot summer day or night, but according to bar staff you should never order a drink in a restaurant, pub or bar with ice in it.

I can guarantee you won’t like the reason why bartenders advise giving ice a miss. It’s because it’s often not so clean. A lot of places will have good, clean ice, but some establishments can be a bit lazy about giving their ice machines a good clean.

There are three main contaminants of ice, and they are bacteria, mould, and whatever stuff is found on people’s hands…

Mould can build up inside ice machines if they’re not cleaned or they get turned off for a while. Water can become contaminated with bacteria whilst being frozen, or from contact with contaminated food.

Now for the hand contamination issue. Bar staff who work while sick, don’t wash their hands before scooping the ice up or touch ice with their bare hands can spread all kinds of bacterial nasties into your drink. Norovirus is one of them that can be spread like this. The problem is, you can’t see, taste or smell the bacterial contamination that could make you sick.

How Can Pubs and Restaurants Reduce the Risk?

Eating and drinking establishments should start treating ice with the same care that they treat food. They need to ensure their ice machines are regularly checked and cleaned. It’s the law that they have to do this at periods between two and four times a year, or as specified by the ice machine manufacturer, so there’s no excuse.

Pubs and restaurants should also train their employees to handle ice with the same precautions they would with food. This means washing hands before using the ice machine, using a proper scoop, and not touching the ice with bare hands.

Although there have been a couple of cases where ice contamination has caused serious illness, it’s something your immune system can usually handle. There’s more danger with certain groups of people, such as pregnant women, the elderly, children and those with autoimmune disorders.

When you go for a drink in a bar or restaurant, take note of the general cleanliness of the place, and the food hygiene standard rating. If you’re not sure, it’s probably best to skip the cocktail or the long drink with ice, and stick with wine, beer or cider.