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Equipment maintenance: How to reduce bills

15 June 2006

Maintenance of kitchen equipment is often low on the list of priorities for chefs and kitchen managers. This is why kitchen equipment manufacturers and suppliers recommend an approach called planned preventative maintenance, or PPM for short.

Running a kitchen is one of the most expensive parts of any catering business, and it's no secret that there is more money to be made out of bedrooms than restaurants. This financial pressure is a prime reason why a worryingly high proportion of kitchen equipment is not maintained on a regular basis.

Commercial catering equipment is built to withstand hard use, but it needs servicing. With a car, it is taken for granted that the manufacturer's servicing guidelines should be followed. There should be the same understanding that regular servicing is necessary with kitchen equipment.

Waiting until it breaks down before calling in an engineer is a false economy. Sod's law dictates that equipment will break down at the worst possible moment, but there are practical reasons why this happens.

Problems with refrigeration occur most frequently in the summer months. That is because hot weather forces refrigerator condensers to run hard to maintain a safe cabinet temperature.

Similarly, an unmaintained combi-oven is more likely to develop a problem in a busy banqueting season, simply because it is being worked so hard every day.

The purpose of PPM is to reduce the risk of a breakdown by spotting a looming problem before it happens. This makes double sense in the efficient running of a kitchen. With a PPM scheme in place, a routine visit by a service engineer will fine-tune equipment so it is performing at its best. This can be as straightforward as cleaning partly blocked gas jets for fuel efficiency or using computer diagnostics to test electronic circuitry on combi-ovens.

And just as a dentist keeps case notes from every check-up of things to keep an eye on, so does a PPM engineer during a visit.

The second huge benefit of PPM is that as part of the routine inspection and adjustments the engineer can spot trouble ahead. For example, a fridge might appear to be running well to the chef, but the engineer might spot excessive compressor wear, which could lead to a breakdown or a failure to maintain a safe temperature.

Replacing the compressor before it breaks down costs, at worst, the same amount as waiting for the inevitable, but more probably it will cost less, as there will not be an emergency call-out fee or disruption to kitchen service. Depending on what equipment breaks down, in the absence of a PPM scheme, it could be either disruptive or disastrous.

There is a further benefit to implementing a PPM scheme in the kitchen. A frantic call to a service company to come immediately could result in a long wait, as there is a shortage of trained service engineers for kitchen equipment.

Almost all restaurant chains use PPM routinely, but as part of the contract they impose quick response times. A fast-food outlet can lose hundreds of pounds if fryers or fridges go down.

A kitchen on a PPM contract can expect a rapid response. Their call gets priority.

Next in line is warranty work. Many manufacturers contract this out, and if a customer finds that something has gone wrong within the warranty period, the manufacturer will want it sorted rapidly.

At the back of the queue is the casual distress call. Service companies will do their best to get out to a one-off distress call as soon as possible, but contracted kitchens will take priority. Without a PPM scheme in place, a kitchen with a breakdown might have to wait several days for the repair to be made.

Introducing a PPM scheme has to be done through a service company whose engineers have the statutory qualifications to work on the equipment. There are separate qualifications needed for different types of equipment. If anyone works on catering equipment without the right training and paperwork, then the kitchen is risking invalidating warranties and insurance policies.

To find a service company offering planned preventative maintenance, go to the CESA website, www.cesa.org.uk, and click on the Service & Maintenance link. Preventative maintenance check list This is a breakdown of some of the jobs which need to be done through a PPM scheme and the engineer qualifications a kitchen manager should check before signing up for a PPM agreement. Electrical equipment Specialist testing is required for most equipment that is hard-wired into the kitchen. It is important to check that the engineer servicing the electrical components of kitchen equipment has the test equipment recommended by the manufacturer. Regular maintenance of electrical components is essential, since heat, water and electricity need keeping well apart for safety reasons. Gas equipment Only engineers approved by the Corgi ACS (Confederation for the Registration of Gas Installers, Accredited Certification Scheme) can work on gas appliances in a restaurant kitchen. Check that certification matches the equipment being serviced. These are the certification categories an engineer working on kitchen gas equipment must have: Category 1 Boiling tables, open and solid-top ranges, convection ovens, combi-ovens and bains-marie. Category 2 Water boilers, boiling pans, steamers and dishwashers. Category 3 Deep-fat fryers, bratt pans, griddles and grills. Category 4 Fish and chip ranges. Category 5 Forced-draught burner appliances, such as impingers and conveyor ovens. Water Only accredited plumbers can connect equipment to the mains supply to ensure that its connection and use satisfies the Water Regulations Guide. With kitchen equipment connected to the water mains there is the risk of accidental backflow of dirty water into the clean water supply. If this happens through lack of maintenance, then the premises responsible is liable for a hefty fine. Scale in equipment caused by poor or no water treatment or filtering will invalidate warranty terms and cause premature breakdown, especially in combi-ovens, beverage equipment and dishwashers. As part of a PPM scheme, equipment using water will be checked for build-up of limescale in tanks and pipes. Microwave testing Microwave emission testing is essential to spot potentially harmful leakage. This is a specialist job requiring specific testing equipment and must be done every six months.
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