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Ice for your drink?
Some of the same folks who insist on bottled water in flight think nothing of dropping into it a couple of ice cubes plucked from the machine in the hotel hallway. The tendency is to assume that the ice is a solid form of potable water. Truth is, ice is no more or less safe for consumption than the water from which it was frozen, whether it came from a machine in the hotel or a bag in a convenience store.
Chances are that for your last trip, the flight attendant or one of the crew did, in fact, pick up ice at a convenience or grocery store for onboard use. Or they simply scooped some cubes from a machine at the local FBO.
Supplies of water and ice for airlines are governed by World Health Organization International Health Regulations, which establish standards of quality and safety. Those regulations, however, don't apply to airports where there is no commercial traffic.
That could spell trouble for business jet travelers who typically use general aviation airports. Ice should be treated like any high-risk food that may carry illnesses ranging from typhoid to dysentery, as well as microbiological food poisoning agents such as salmonella and campylobacter. So said Erica Sheward, the author of Aviation Food Safety and technical director of London-based caterer Castle Kitchens. Sheward offered a set of rules for ensuring that airborne ice is safe:
• Ice drawers in the galley should be sanitized with a food-safe chemical before and after every flight. Solutions used to clean baby bottles can do the job well, as they aren't toxic and have minimal tainting properties. Quats and ViroFree, which are sold through cabin suppliers, are also ideal, as they are made expressly for cleaning and disinfecting galley surfaces. They are odorless and colorless and available on many business jets. Don't use bleach, as it is toxic and will heavily taint the surfaces of the drawer.
• Whenever possible, buy ice in sealed, sterile bags.
• If you must take ice from a common-use machine at a hotel or FBO, check with the staff to ensure that the machine is sterilized and regularly maintained. Also, don't use the scoop on the side of the machine-bring your own scoop and a large, clean zip-lock bag to carry the ice.
• Keep ice for cooling and ice for consumption separate.
• Never re-freeze partially defrosted ice for consumption later.
• Don't use ice obtained at any location where the water supply is suspect-if the water's bad, so is the ice.
Sheward also emphasized that while boiling water may destroy bacteria, freezing it does not, and as the ice melts, any bacteria are revived and are as dangerous as before they were frozen.
Finally, don't assume that the alcohol in that single-malt scotch or gin-and-tonic will destroy any bacteria lurking in the ice. Liquor can do all sorts of things, but that's not one of them.