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Are Ice Cubes Safe?
11th Nov 2015

Since the recent outbreak of Typhoid disease in Kuala Lumpur, social media has been ‘buzzing’ with health advice recommending that people should not consume ice cubes as this can spread the disease. Others disagree and say the ice factories have regular public health inspections and so we can continue enjoying ice cubes in our drinks. So, who is right?

Typhoid disease is caused by a bacteria (Salmonella typhii) and those affected by this condition can get fever, fatigue, diarrhoea, vomiting and headache. People usually get Typhoid disease by taking food or water that has become contaminated by faecal bacteria. The contamination occurs when an infected person does not wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet and thereby spreading the bacteria on food items that they come in contact with.

All uncooked food items can potentially spread the disease if not handled correctly, not only ice cubes. Ice machines can become a source of infection if the correct maintenance is not done and the ready-made ice cubes can also be contaminated by the direct touching of a dirty hand. The Ministry of Health does carry out regular inspections of ice factories and this latest outbreak does not appear to be related to any such factory.

The best way to prevent the spread of Typhoid disease is to ensure all people involved in food preparation take great care with handwashing, whether working in a restaurant or at home. If you are eating in a place where you do not trust that handwashing is being done properly then you should avoid the following foods:

• Salads/uncooked vegetables/peeled fruits
• Raw or uncooked shellfish
• Ice cubes
• Ice-cream products
• Cold desserts
• Unpasteurised milk and cheese

So, ice cubes are only safe as long as the ice machine is maintained correctly and good handwashing is carried out. If in doubt, place the drink on top of a block of ice instead of putting ice cubes into the drink.