Maintenance of kitchen equipment is often low on the list of priorities for chefs and kitchen managers, but a programme of planned preventative maintenance will lessen the chance of a breakdown at the worst possible moment, says Diane Lane.
Catering equipment is an investment, and like any investment it requires care and attention in the form of service and maintenance to make sure you get the best from it.
The warning from CESA, the Catering Equipment Suppliers' Association, is that poorly maintained equipment will be unsafe, produce poor-quality results and waste energy and this will result in costly repairs, high energy bills and early replacement of equipment.
"It is important that you check all equipment daily to ensure that everything is in proper working order," says CESA director Keith Warren. "By doing this and taking the necessary action when something needs attention you will save money, maintain a safe working environment and provide a quality product for your customers.
"A regular service plan is important, as it ensures that all services are performed at the right time. Regular planned maintenance saves money, improves efficiency and extends equipment life. Most equipment needs at least one service each year. However, busy kitchens may require up to four services a year."
One of the benefits of a planned maintenance programme is that service engineers can make operators aware of cleaning issues, a key part of preventing equipment inefficiency or failure. "There is no doubt that regular cleaning helps to prevent breakdowns," says Jeremy Clark, service manager of Gratte Brothers Catering Equipment and CEDA (Catering Equipment Distributors Association) Technical Services Group member. "Lots of breakdowns are due to poor housekeeping. It should be common sense to make sure plates and glassware are free of debris before being put into the washer.
"Some kitchens have a fantastic cleaning regime and never have breakdowns. Others have cooking ranges that were new six months ago but are now caked, and they will have regular breakdowns. Half the battle is cleaning up after a spill and not letting it pile up."
According to Clark, the major issue with warewashing is failing to put salt into the water softener, causing limescale to build up in the boiler - 1mm of scale causes a 12% loss in efficiency.
Overloading causes all sorts of issues in the kitchen, too. Clark explains: "Dishwashers can get blamed for not washing properly simply because too much ware has been loaded inside, blocking the jets from reaching all areas. And convection oven call-outs can be caused by uneven cooking because the caterer is trying to cram too much in and the air cannot be forced around the interior evenly."
Clark has identified several key maintenance issues relating to various types of kitchen equipment:
• Cleaning of door seals is essential to prevent damage.
• Condensers should also be cleaned regularly to prevent overheating, but this should be done by an engineer, as it requires getting inside the unit.
• Maintain a "decent airflow" around the fridge - a common cause of overheating or inadequate temperatures is stacking boxes from a delivery around the fridge or freezer and blocking the airflow. If you have good ventilation and good airflows, you should not have a problem.
• Overloading also causes overheating or poor temperature control, because air cannot flow evenly inside the fridge or freezer.
• Burners on gas ranges can clog up due to lack of cleanliness.
• Debris caking around burners and pilot lights causes excessive wear and airflow problems and extra time for engineers when they need to be fixed.
• Damaged door seals cause a lot of heat to be lost. The rising heat can affect the taps on ranges, causing them to seize, but damaged seals also lead to uneven or inadequate cooking, the cause of many engineer call-outs.
• When cleaning, do not empty the fryer when boiling hot. Besides the health and safety issue of pouring burning oil from the fryer into a separate container, an empty hot fryer can also cause the safety thermostat to trip out. Older fryers have a reset button on the outside but newer designs mean that the thermostats can only be reset inside the unit after taking panels off, which must be done by a qualified engineer. Oil needs to be just "hand-hot" - about 40ºC - for cleaning, which avoids the oil or fat congealing.
• Make sure the fryer is turned off before cleaning, a common fault, especially with electric fryers.
• When using fryers, make sure the oil level is topped up to the correct level, but not over.
• Make sure the gate valve is closed when refilling the fryer, avoiding spills and possibly trips.
• The biggest problem is faulty seals, which cause water vapour to get into the oven cavity housing electrical printed circuit boards (PCBs), causing short circuits. Engineers do not usually carry PCBs due to their expense and delicacy, so replacement usually requires two visits.
• Door seals should be checked regularly and cleaned daily.
• Seals on interior lights should also be checked - look for condensation on the interior of the light and that the unit is fitted together properly.
• Core food probes are often damaged by being slammed in the door.
• Some kitchen staff still use knives on combi keypads. They never own up to it, but you can see the marks of the knife point on the plastic cover.
• Keep the wash arms and filters free of debris.
• Keep an eye on the temperature readout to make sure the machine is up to temperature.
• Teaspoons getting jammed in pumps is a common cause of engineer call-outs.
• Cocktail sticks and broken glass jammed in pumps are also a common cause of failure in glasswashers.
• Clean out the strainers at least twice a day.
A TYPICAL DAILY CHECK LIST
• In refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, etc check that all seals are intact and fitting correctly and all filters are clean, properly in place and well fitted.
• Check thermostats and that all temperatures are correct. Ideally, temperatures should be monitored automatically in refrigerators so that you can easily observe any changes.
• Make sure vents are not obstructed and that refrigerators and freezers are not placed in a warm place - for example, in sunlight or close to cooking equipment.
• If smoke is given off by fryers, this is a sign that the temperature-controlling thermostat is broken and needs replacing.
• Check that the flame from cooking ranges is blue, not yellow. A yellow flame indicates incomplete burning and the release of unhealthy gases in the kitchen.
• Some modern equipment such as combi-ovens is fitted with detectors that provide valuable warning information, such as the build-up of limescale. Do not ignore these messages.
If any of these checks show that something is wrong, call a qualified engineer.
Electrolux recommends regularly cleaning out the parts of fridges and freezers that are affected by dust and addressing any scaling issues with warewashing equipment, ensuring that salt-based softeners are checked.
Regular cleaning of fryers will reduce the build-up of grease and carbon and so extend the life of both components and oil, according to Lincat, and when cleaning a gas cooking range care should be taken when reassembling, for example, the pan supports, to avoid damage to any exposed components.
Hobart stresses the importance of ensuring staff are properly trained in the operation and cleaning of machines, and recommends, where possible, planning the working area to avoid accidental damage or misuse.
Make somebody accountable for the cleanliness of the equipment to ensure the job gets done, is the advice from the Advance Group, which also points out that warewasher filters should not be removed for cleaning until after the machine has drained down, otherwise debris it has collected falls into the water and can result in damage to the drain pump.
Advance Group 0800 597 7427
CEDA 01386 793911
CESA 020 7793 3030
Electrolux Professional 0800 988 2809
Gratte Brothers Catering Equipment 01438 750022
Hobart 0844 888 7777
Lincat 01522 875500