We all get busy. For restaurants and other foodservice operators, it’s especially easy to forget to clean, maintain and check equipment on a daily basis. And many don’t keep logs or concrete schedules in place to guide these important tasks. But when you’ve invested extra dollars to buy top-of-the-line, energy- and/or water-efficient models, maintenance becomes even more important if you want to realize those benefits and cost savings over time.
That’s why service agents offer quarterly, annual and semiannual preventative maintenance (PM) plans for different types of equipment based on volume, type of use, menu and environmental conditions to keep operators on track. Still, foodservice operators can perform some minor tasks on their own to maintain their equipment in between those more thorough checkups by service agents, and it’s even better if they go the extra mile to document those tasks for staff and managers.
Dan Poulin, vice president of operations/service at Pine Tree Food Equipment in Gray, Maine, shares a few tips on what operators can do on a regular basis and what they can delegate to service agents.
Fryer maintenance primarily comes down to frequent filtering of oil to maximize any energy savings potential and maintain high-quality, fresh food.
Operator: While more efficient fryer models come with their own filtering systems, in some cases the user still needs to be prompted to change the filter every day or week depending on use. Regular filtering is especially important if the operator uses the fryers for battered or flour-coated items that can create more of a daily and long-term mess, says Poulin.
Service Agent: Poulin recommends quarterly checkups for heavy fryer users and semiannual or annual for less frequent users, or for those only using the fryers for fries. Service agents will pull out all the burners to manually clean them, clean the screens to prevent clogs and prevent soot from forming, vacuum out the tubes, clean and calibrate the pilot and check gas pressures.
Steamers and Combi Ovens
Steamer and combi oven maintenance depends heavily on the water quality in a specific area. Hard, more mineral-dense water sources cause more lime scale buildup and require more regular cleaning and checkups to maximize energy performance, consistency and cooking efficiencies.
Operator: It’s important for operators to make sure door gaskets are regularly cleaned so they don’t dry up, crack and break, says Poulin. He also recommends clearing drains of any debris on a daily basis.
Service Agent: Again, depending on water quality in the area, a service agent might come in to descale the equipment once or even twice a year. For some schools, Poulin will schedule steamer and combi maintenance twice a year, once during winter break and again during the summer. While there are more chemicals on the market for operators to descale equipment themselves, some lack the training to work with these chemicals, and some models have special requirements. For example, some combi ovens require the use of a pump to descale the equipment, and older steamers often have to be taken apart to be cleaned. Keeping scale buildup to a minimum is the best way to maintain efficiencies.
Lately, Pine Tree has become more involved in the cleaning and maintenance of hood systems as operators choose higher-end models that require more attention to maximize energy efficiencies, Poulin says.
Operator: Pull out and clean the filters at least once a week to keep fans working properly.
Service Agent: Regular checks once or twice a year will involve checking belts, making sure bearings are working and ensuring the motor is not seizing up or creating excess noise.
Reach-In and Walk-In Refrigeration
Service agents will examine the operation’s refrigeration system before determining the best PM course of action. “If an outdoor unit is mounted on the roof we will look to see if there is a cover over it, and if there is a lot of dust or debris in the surrounding atmosphere,” Poulin says. Again, the presence of flour and grease will impact PM requirements as well. Poulin generally recommends once- or twice-per-year checkups for refrigeration in the absence of excess dust, debris, flour or grease, but possibly more frequent checkups for more congested areas.
Operator: Poulin recommends making sure door closures are working properly, and if not, contacting the service agent immediately. “Don’t let those things go unnoticed or forgotten,” he says, or you may risk performance issues and major energy losses. For freezers, operators should make sure their defrost function is working properly every day or however often the unit requires defrosting. Icicles in the interior of a walk-in will indicate the defrost system is malfunctioning, which requires a call to the service agent.
Service Agent: In addition to checking doors and defrost systems, the service agent will (usually once a year) clean filters, condensing units and fans.
As is the case with steamers and combi ovens, water quality dictates the frequency of descaling needs for ice machines.
Operator: Poulin recommends operators empty and clean out the ice machine bin completely at least once a month. Some restaurants will run a special cleaning solution through the machine once a month and then have the service agent come in every three months, but Poulin only suggests operators trained in this technique perform their own chemical cleaning and descaling. If using a water filter, he recommends operators replace the filter every three to four months depending on usage.
Service Agent: Poulin recommends a service agent descaling about three times a year for hard water areas. He also recommends using a water filter, but not necessarily a softener, to remove larger pieces of sediment. Softeners can slow down water flowing to the equipment in some cases.
Ranges, Griddles and Charbroilers
Similar to fryers, ranges require maintenance of burners, air shutters and pilot areas.
Operator: Poulin recommends operators clean their burners and wipe them free of food and debris on a daily basis. If the flames have turned yellow, they could create soot and burn less efficiently, so in that case, Poulin recommends calling the service agent.
Service Agent: Poulin’s team will calibrate oven ranges and adjust pilot flames at least once or twice a year for most operators, depending on use, and if they’re not called sooner.
These high-volume belted ovens have become more popular as fast-casual pizza and sandwich chains turn to them for rapid-speed cooking and toasting.
Operator: Checking and maintaining the cooling fan motors on the exterior of the conveyor oven will help the machine run properly and consistently. “It’s also very important to keep any visible screens cleaned of flour and food debris,” says Poulin. He recommends pulling them, rinsing them in the sink, drying and replacing them at least once a week, if not more for heavy pizza operators. They should also monitor air holes to keep them free of debris.
Service Agent: Depending on use and the type of food cooked in the oven, Poulin will conduct regular once- or twice-yearly checkups to further clean cooling fans, screens and air holes to prevent clogs. He will also adjust belts to make sure they are not sagging, and check the bushings and bearings to make sure they are not wearing out. Dry shafts also need to be checked and maintained; otherwise they can cut right into the conveyor frame and wear through it over time.
For dishwashers, as with steamers and ice machines, water quality determines the frequency of PM checkups.
Operator: Poulin recommends not only checking for scale buildup but also for excess soap residue; this can indicate an overuse of cleaning chemicals. He recommends a thorough cleaning of the screens and drains on a daily basis. Also, he recommends ensuring that wash arm plugs are not getting clogged with debris. “These are things the operator can actually see and remove before they lead to bigger issues,” he says.
Service Agent: At least once a year, the service agent can check to ensure the dishwasher is running at optimal performance by making adjustments to the unit, checking belts on flight-type machines and, of course, thoroughly descaling the equipment.