9 Investigates dirty restaurant ice machines

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Every restaurant in North Carolina is inspected by the Health Department and their scores are clearly posted.

But Channel 9 investigated and found that even places with high scores can still have issues.

Channel 9 anchor John Paul discovered ice machines may harbor a hidden danger.

On Oct. 20, Paul went to four local restaurants across the Charlotte area to look into the safety of ice they serve.

Paul went to the following locations:

Lucianos Italy on South Boulevard has a health score of 95.

Macados on University City Boulevard has a health score of 93.

Pier 16 on Brookshire Freeway has a health score of 90.5.

Fox and Hound on Center Lake Drive has a health score of 86.

While most of their public health scores are good, they all have something in common.

The restaurants have been repeatedly cited for having debris and build up in their ice machines.

Paul gathered ice samples from each restaurant following instructions for lab testing and placed them in a cooler. He took the sealed samples to the lab at UNC Charlotte.

Six days later, the results were in.

“I was a little surprised by the amount of bacteria," said Melanie Harris, a biology lecturer at UNC Charlotte.

She put a tenth of a milliliter sample on six different plates, for each restaurant, and let them incubate.

She didn't expect to find anything growing on the plates because she's tested tap water before and found almost no bacterial growth. But that wasn't the case with the samples.

The sample taken at Lucianos contained about 40 different bacterial colonies.

Seventy colonies were found in the sample taken from Fox and Hound.

Eighty were found at Macado's.


The most bacterial growth was discovered in the sample taken from Pier 16 with 350 colonies.

It's important to note that the Health Department doesn't set a limit for bacteria colonies in ice, and it was not concerned by most of those results.

When Channel 9 shared the results from Pier 16 with the Health Department, they launched their own separate investigation to ensure the restaurant isn’t putting customers in danger.

That investigation is now underway and is expected to be completed this week.

The owner at Pier 16 denied the restaurant gave us ice, despite the fact Channel 9 got it on camera.

He said he cleans the machine weekly.

Channel 9 contacted the other restaurants where Luciano's said a service maintains their machine and the latest inspection was clean. Fox and Hound and Macado's did not respond.

Paul showed the bacterial results to Howard Mackie, who runs local ice manufacturer Zippy's.

"(I’m) not surprised by that,” Mackie said. ”Not at all."

Mackie said he keeps a strict cleaning regiment because of what can happen making ice.

"It's got all the ingredients for this disgusting mess that can form and it hides in the ice machine," Mackie said.

He said sometimes ice machines are overlooked or not cleaned on schedule, which can lead to bacteria.

In fact, in the latest health inspection at Pier 16 done in August the inspector “observed ice machine collecting black and pink debris."

Mackie recommends restaurants adopt stringent cleaning methods and said if you are unsure about the food or cleanliness don't. get the ice.