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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — You’ve probably seen the words “pink slime” on our Restaurant Report Card stories — but what exactly is it?

Biofilm, or pink slime as it’s commonly called, is a frequent sight on ice machines, soda fountains, toilet bowls and as buildup anywhere near water.

This persistent substance is actually a bacteria colony and could lead to some serious health problems if ingested or if left unattended.

What is “Pink Slime,” and how does it form?

Often seen and reported in ice machines, this common contamination can be found in the home as well as a restaurant.

Pink slime buildup is actually a substance called biofilm. It is the result of the right combination of environmental factors for bacteria to thrive. Biofilms are the result of microorganisms attaching to a surface.

Oftentimes, the slime is a result of mold or fungus that has accumulated from bacteria growth on a surface that is constantly exposed to clinging water droplets and warm temperatures.

As an expert on food safety points out, “Once well-developed biofilms establish themselves on surfaces, cleaning and sanitation become much more difficult.”

Why should you be concerned?

That pink slime may make you or your pets sick if consumed.

Unlike higher temperatures, extreme cold and freezing temperatures may not kill all bacteria and viruses present in water. Recently, there has been a Listeria outbreak associated with ice cream.

Outbreaks of Norovirus and Listeria have been responsible for millions of people getting sick every year. The CDC said that Norovirus is responsible for up to 685 million cases of gastroenteritis annually.

How to protect yourself and pets?

Experts recommend regular maintenance and cleaning of surfaces to avoid contamination. In some instances, sanitizing might not be enough and the slimy substance must be physically removed from a surface in addition to regular cleaning.

For ice machines, make sure to follow these common-sense rules:

  • Wash hands before obtaining or handling ice
  • Hold ice scoop by handle
  • Do not return unused ice to storage or ice machine

For a commercial setting be aware of the following:

  • Keep access to ice stored closed except when removing ice
  • Ice scoops should be free of grooves or scratches and protected against contact with contaminated surfaces
  • Scoops should be cleaned daily in the kitchen dishwasher
  • Ice chests should be cleaned on preferably weekly schedule, but no less than once a month
  • Routine sampling of equipment and ice contact surfaces