Slimed, not stirred: Drinking in South Florida can be hazardous to your health

Consuming 'slime' can cause diarrhea, vomiting, food poisoning

DANIA BEACH, Fla. – It's the ugliest, grossest, most disgusting thing our Dirty Dining cameras have ever seen inside a South Florida restaurant.

It's unlikely you will ever see it or taste it, but experts say it's there and could make you sick.

"It looks like snot. It looks like you blew you nose and put it in the ice machine," said Jeff Saltzman, lead technician of Ice Masters.

Local 10 News spent a day with Saltzman, who deals with bacteria, mold, slime and yeast build-ups in ice machines every day.

"It's a big problem in South Florida," Saltzman said.

When ignored, the slime grows and grows.

In one instance, we saw yeast build up in an ice machine at a Dania Beach bar. It was gooey, slimy and had a slight odor.

"If you eat that, it's like taking a fungi from a tree outside and eating it. It will make you sick. It can cause diarrhea, vomiting and food poisoning," Saltzman said.

Saltzman said many restaurateurs ignore professional maintenance on their ice machines because they think it's too costly.

While you may think of ice as nothing more than frozen water, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation classifies ice as a food.

During inspections, the ice machine is inspected.

According to state records from 2016 to 2018, the DBPR issued 13,901 citations to restaurants in South Florida for a mold-like substance in the ice machine or ice bin.

Records show that Taste Buds of India, on Normandy Drive in Miami Beach, was cited last October for mold in the ice machine and again in January.

Local 10 investigator Jeff Weinsier asked a manager if they take the violation seriously.

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"Yes, of course," the manager said. "The guy that does that is on vacation. He takes care of everything." 

Saltzman said bars are more prone to the problem because of hops in the air from beer.

"They pop those beer tabs and it's in the air," he said.

Patrons obviously can't inspect the ice machine themselves as a customer and have to trust that the restaurant owner does the right thing.

"If you see black specs in the ice, nine times out of 20 that is contaminated ice. You don't want it," Saltzman said. "If you see the ice is cloudy and has cloudy spots in it, that means it's not filtered properly and it's not working properly."

The bottom line: Order your next drink "neat" or get it "straight up," and that should melt away the potential risk.

Saltzman said ice machines should be professionally cleaned at least every three months depending on the surrounding environment.

Click here for more information about what you should know about ice from the DBPR. 

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.