FDA Keeps Ice Under Close Watch, Regulates As Food

We don't typically think of ice as food, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers packaged ice a food and regulates it as such.

With holiday celebrations imminent, no doubt sales of ice will be going up over the weekend. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the average family purchases four bags of ice each year, with 80 percent of the packaged ice being bought between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But, something many of us may not think about when it comes to ice: It is regulated by the FDA just like any other food product.

Packaged ice can be shaved, cubed, nuggeted, and crushed. It can be made from tap water, from spring water, or from purified water. But no matter the shape or the source, ice is considered a food by FDA. Ice must be produced according to the FDAs regulation for Current Good Manufacturing Practices in Manufacturing, Packaging or Holding Human Food. Some might think, “It’s just ice,” but think about it: That ice you purchase is not just going around well-sealed packages of food to keep it cold; it also goes into drinks for cooling, and may leak into some of our not-so-well-sealed food packages, as well. So, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense that ice manufacturers must produce, hold, and transport ice in clean and sanitary conditions, monitor the cleanliness and hygiene of employees, use properly cleaned and maintained equipment, and use water that is safe and sanitary.

According to the FDA, when investigators inspect ice manufacturing plants, they look at numerous things within the plant, including:

  • Whether the plumbing in the facility prevents contamination of the ice water supply or stored ice.
  • Whether the water supply is safe and sanitary (e.g., water that meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for drinking water).
  • Whether the manufacturing facility and grounds are maintained in sanitary condition.

Ice Labeling

Packaged ice labels are regulated, and must meet FDA food labeling requirements. The labels must list the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor of the ice. The labels must also list the net quantity of contents of the product. Because ice is a single ingredient food, packaged ice does not need listing of ingredients. In addition, ice does not require a nutrition facts label, unless the package has a nutrient content claim (such as low in sodium). But ice labeled as being from a specific source, such as spring water or artesian well water, must be truthfully labeled and not misleading; in other words, it must really be from that source. The source water must meet all the requirements for such types of source water, as described in FDA regulations.

Consumers should be aware, however, that the FDA does not inspect small packaged ice producers, like retail stores, that make and package ice directly for the consumer and only for intrastate sales. Additionally, the FDA also does not inspect food service establishments that make ice for direct use (e.g., for drinks or cooling food). However, retail food stores and food service establishments are subject to regulation by State and local authorities. Also, the FDA Food Code, on which most state and local food regulations are modeled, contains provisions related to the safe and sanitary production and handling of ice.

Tips for Consumers

The FDA provides tips for consumers when handling packaged ice:

  • Handle ice with clean, non-breakable utensils, such as tongs or an ice scoop.
  • Avoid touching ice with dirty hands or glasses.
  • Store ice in clean containers that are safe for storing food.

For more food safety information, consumers can visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration online.

Image: Wikimedia Commons