DALLAS -- Retailers and other food purveyors should treat the equipment they have in the store like their own cars -- a little regular maintenance goes a long way in preventing a catastrophic breakdown.
Two food-equipment service specialists made the parallel during a seminar on strategies to make fixtures last longer and perform stronger during the biennial convention here of the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers. The organization is based in Chicago.
Marty Applegate, national service manager for Salvajor Co., Kansas City, Mo., a manufacturer of warewashing equipment, and Dale J. Campbell, president of Barker's Food Machinery Service, Irwindale, Calif., urged retailers to set up a schedule of simple cleaning and to exercise visual awareness of their equipment's performance to keep it running in peak condition.
Like a bad tire, "you can fix it now or wait for it to go flat," said Campbell. "One big similarity between your car and large restaurant equipment is that if they're both not properly maintained, one day they're going to go 'clunk,' and you're going to spend a lot of money getting them fixed."
The pair outlined a program of cleaning and inspection tasks that should be conducted on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Faithfully adhering to it is the best way to prevent the kinds of breakdowns that might keep a piece of machinery out of commission for a day or longer.
For retailers, the stakes are especially high. If it's a unique fixture like a convection oven or a fryer, for which there is no alternative cooking method, then profits for the food item are lost for the time it is under repair.
There are some universal rules that Applegate and Campbell said operators should follow, regardless of the fixture: never use a "hose down" as a cleaning technique, don't neglect filter changes and never use equipment for anything other than what it was designed for.
"Would you blow dry your hair sitting in a bath tub full of water? Probably not," said Campbell of the "hose-down" method of cleaning. "Yet, we continually do emergency repairs for people who let their equipment get washed down during the cleaning process."
Neglected filter changes can cause refrigeration units to run harder and longer to attain the set temperature, which increases utility costs and dramatically shortens the life of this component, he said.
A NAFEM-sponsored video aired during the presentation listed some of the simplest inspections that operators can perform on a daily basis. Some of them are conducted even before the device is started up for the day, such as making sure switches are turned the right way, plugs are properly in place and cords are not frayed. At the end of the day, regular cleaning duties might also include filling oil cups, lubricating fittings, and checking pressure settings and water temperatures.
On a monthly basis, operators or a designated employee should check belts and pulleys, examine door gaskets, clean condenser coils and delime systems that use water.
Of course, specific pieces of equipment like convection ovens have their own checklists, the speakers pointed out.
In this case, associates should be trained to avoid using scouring powder on glass windows; to clean door gaskets and the oven interior daily with warm, soapy water. An experienced operator should also regularly check to make sure the snorkel tube is not blocked with materials like aluminum foil; clean the tube with oven cleaner; check the flue to make sure it, too, is free of obstructions; and check restraining devices on casters supporting gas units to prevent gas-line breakage.
In the case of reach-in refrigeration or freezer units, regular maintenance should include cleaning door gaskets with warm, soapy water and baking soda. A manager should schedule checks of the gaskets and cleaning of the condenser coil area; and also monitor the compressor for "short cycling," an indication of a leak or more serious problem.
While many of these tasks can be completed in-house, more complicated systems should be maintained by professional service companies as part of a regular maintenance contract, the two men said.
Applegate stressed that the best defense for operators is to get involved with the equipment from the day it is delivered. If an owner is to properly monitor and care for the fixture, then it's necessary to make sure it is properly installed, and that he or she is thoroughly trained to operate it.
"The initial installation of the equipment is obviously a very important stage to make sure everything is done right," he said. "After it's put in, it needs to be started up by qualified personnel, and it needs to be demonstrated so everybody involved knows how to operate the equipment."
The installation phase is usually conducted by a general contractor or, in many cases, the manufacturer or a qualified service agent. They connect the line and calibrate the controls to settings specified by the operator. They should also be on hand to handle the first-time startup, and also to lead the operator and the staff through a complete demonstration of the equipment's functions, said Applegate.
The presence of professionals is important because there are a host of possible glitches already waiting -- water solenoids might be clogged, utilities and water lines might be misdirected, circuit breakers and fuses might be the wrong size, motors might be misconnected, regulators and valves might not be cleaned.
"On the major appliances, there's a lot of stuff to check, there's a lot of connections to be made," said Applegate. "It's very important that the startup is performed and the operator is at that point comfortable that the machine is going to function for them when they take it over."
Demonstrations should be one-to-one with the operator, who must be confident that he or she has the ability to run the equipment with the staff.
"In many cases, operators have a fear of the equipment, either through a safety standpoint or that they might break it," said Applegate.
"It's important that from start to finish of the installation, that the contractor's done his job, the service company has done their job and the operator is comfortable and familiar with what [the equipment] is doing, in order to have the process complete," he said.