Almost every kitchen has one, but there's a widespread tendency to take it for granted - until it breaks down, that is. Diane Lane explains why it always pays to give your dishwasher a bit of TLC
It rumbles away in the corner of the kitchen, getting on with a job that no one else wants to do. Granted, it may not be the sexiest piece of equipment, but the machine that turns all those dirty dishes into clean ones in a fraction of the time several kitchen porters could is probably the hardest working bit of kit you've got.
You would certainly miss it if it wasn't there, even for just a few hours. The negative impact of a warewasher breakdown on a catering business was highlighted in a recent survey, carried out by Caterer and Hotelkeeper on behalf of JLA Warewashing, when "increased labour costs", "interrupted services", and "staff unable to do their jobs" were identified as just some of the consequences of warewasher downtime.
Yet they seem to be risks many operators are willing to take, with only 39% of those surveyed opting to have their warewashing equipment covered by a service contract. The remainder were paying out an average of £193 for an engineer call-out, in addition to suffering the aforementioned consequences for at least the average of 19 hours on a weekday and 30 hours at weekends they found themselves waiting for the engineer.
Add to that the fact that only 48% of them got a first-time fix and the service contract option - also known as Planned Preventive Maintenance (PPM) - becomes more appealing by the minute.
The fact that less than half the respondents had taken out service contracts comes as no great surprise to JLA's head of marketing, Liam Grant, although he says things are changing. "We believe there is an increasing trend for people to take out service cover because of the critical nature of warewashing equipment," he adds. "When a piece of warewashing equipment breaks down the impact on the smooth running of a business is significant, and so any measures that are taken to minimise this risk to the business are prudent."
The most common type of service contract among those that had them, was "call-out, labour, and parts included (for mechanical failure only, wear and tear not included)", although 80% of all respondents indicated an interest in a care package that guaranteed no repair bills and 78% in seven-day engineer cover.
They're not unrealistic expectations, says Grant, but it's important to scrutinize the cover provided to make sure it fulfils your requirements. "In many cases people are not always taking out the most appropriate cover," he adds. "Our advice would be to look very carefully at what is included. Most packages do not include user error, misuse or wear and tear. This can end up meaning that many call-outs are not covered by the service package and businesses end up being invoiced despite having a service contract."
The uptake of service (or PPM) contracts when purchasing warewashing equipment varies considerably, but Robin McKnight, managing director of the Catering Equipment Distributors Association (CEDA), puts the figure at about 30%. He says: "The main reason for such low uptake is manufacturer warranties, causing operators to question the need for maintenance when equipment is under warranty. However, manufacturers will normally honour a warranty only if the equipment is maintained in line with their recommendations, as is the case with a car."
The car analogy is also used by John Nelson, managing director of Nelson Glass & Dishwashing. "If you liken it to car maintenance, many people choose to have parts replaced during their annual service for convenience whereas others will wait until the part fails," he says. "The second option can save money but might also involve a little inconvenience. Over a machine's life, some parts will deteriorate through age and use and will need changing."
Out of service
Brian Weatherhead, national service manager for Hobart Service, gives a warewashing example. "A PPM visit could identify that a seal on a pump needed to be changed. If left, this could mean the whole pump might need replacing which could be 50 times the cost and would also mean that the machine would be out of service," he explains.
Simon Mallet, regional service manager at Electrolux Professional, says that savvy caterers will certainly take out service contracts on critical kit. "For example, around nine out of 10 kitchens have just the one dishwasher, meaning that if it were to break down the operator would have a real problem on their hands."
Keith Warren, director of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) says contract charges vary depending on the level of cover provided, the location and the size of the kitchen. "Some contracts cover servicing only; some also include the labour charges for repairs needed. The cost will also vary depending on the agreed speed of response time."
Reliability, alongside wash quality, was considered by all the survey respondents to be at least fairly important when choosing warewashing equipment, and very important to the majority.
"Warewashing equipment tends to be used intensively, seven days a week and often by many different people," Grant says. "This often means that the machines are not treated in the best possible way at all times and we do see a lot of badly maintained machines and a lot of easily prevented problems."
In fact, Nick Falco, group sales director at Meiko, estimates that 25% of all breakdowns could be avoided if equipment were regularly maintained to manufacturers' recommendations. He says: "When customers buy new machines most feel that they don't require any maintenance, but all equipment should be regularly maintained to ensure it operates at the optimal level."
The biggest cause of breakdowns on warewashers is operator misuse or lack of training, says Tim Bender, sales director at Hobart Warewash UK. "If a machine is not drained and cleaned routinely or is operated without the filters or strainers in place, food debris and sometimes even cutlery can end up in the drain pump and pipework which inevitably causes blockages."
It may sound obvious, but Nick Burridge, sales director at Classeq, emphasizes the importance of reading the operator manual. "Read the instructions carefully and use the products recommended by the supplier to get the best out of the machine and prolong its lifespan," he advises. "Check to see how often machines should be cleaned and what products to clean it with. Kinked waste pipes, blocked systems and lack of power are caused through machines not being cleaned frequently enough."
Limescale is another major reason for machine breakdown, says Warren. "Limescale building up will constrict pipework, make the pumps work harder, damage heating elements and waste energy. If you see evidence of limescale - a cloudy, off-white coating on the inside of the machine - then check that your water treatment system is working properly."
The cost of poor maintenance can be measured in a variety of ways, as Paul Crowley, marketing manager, Winterhalter UK, explains. "Lack of maintenance will cause poor wash results. This will mean items need rewashing, leading to increased running costs; washing by hand - effectively misplaced labour; or items reaching customers that are dirty.
"A poorly maintained machine will become less efficient, through such things as limescale build-up and corrosion. Anything that causes the machine to lose heat, increase heat-up times and give incorrect readings or measures will make it use more electricity and water."
Ultimately, warns Crowley, lack of maintenance will contribute to the long-term failure of a machine. "If it is well looked after, serviced regularly, cleaned properly, the manufacturer's guidelines followed and thorough training provided for staff, the lifecycle of a product should be very long indeed," he says.
How to get the most from your warewasher
â- Fit a water-treatment system - types range from softeners to reverse-osmosis systems which filter water at the micron level
â- Check water treatment devices are recharged
â- Pre-rinse or scrape items before loading
â- Ensure items are stacked correctly so water jets can access the whole load
â- Clean and clear filters daily and check for damage
â- Clean wash jets at least every seven days
â- Ensure chemical dispensers are sufficiently filled
â- Never add any detergent or products not recommended for the machine
â- Regularly change wash tank water
â- Always allow the machine to complete its wash cycle
â- Drain down and rinse out the machine after every wash session
â- Leave the door or hood slightly open to allow to air-dry
â- Have your machine serviced regularly