Wising up to water: Experts tackle ongoing kitchen dilemma

You might struggle to find a link between cars and water filtration systems, but one actually provides a very apt analogy for the other.

If you consider that you wouldn’t drive your car every day for a year without giving it a service, by the same token anybody owning a combination oven – often the workhorse of a commercial kitchen – shouldn’t be operating it without routinely ensuring that the correct water filtration system is being deployed and maintained.

And yet, as everybody on the supply side of the industry will know, many operators do – even to the extent that automated warnings are overridden and advice on servicing it goes ignored. So what can the industry do to enforce the message that failing to manage this element of the operation can very quickly lead to all sorts of expensive maintenance and breakdown issues?

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It’s a question that eight prominent members of the industry pondered recently at a special editorial roundtable hosted in August by Catering Insight’s sister title Foodservice Equipment Journal in conjunction with Brita Professional.

Those in attendance all agreed that education remains central to the issue, particularly as there are no legislative obligations that would concentrate operators’ minds on the topic.

Miles Dawson, director of sales at Brita Professional, which supplies the Purity C Quell ST and Purity Steam filters specifically for combi ovens, acknowledged that as an expert in its field, Brita has a responsibility to play a leading role in this.

“Water science can sometimes be very complicated, so I think one of the arts that we are trying to work out is how you turn it into Sesame Street rather than it being quantum physics. It is really about trying to understand the views of the catering industry, where we can be helpful and where we can’t, and raising the topic of water filtration rather than it being an after-thought.

“Everyone seems to accept that you have to have water treatment, but whatever solution you use, whether it is a filter or a tablet or something else, if it is not set up correctly in the beginning and maintained – or in the filters sense if it is not monitored for when it needs to be changed – issues will arise,” he warned.

Stuart Long, director of sales and marketing at combi oven manufacturer MKN, believes the adverse effects of failing to fit water treatment at the outset need to be better highlighted given the financial consequences of breakdown or repair. “When you see a stainless steel shelf inside an oven crumble because it has had all the ferrous material leached out of it, you start to appreciate the damage that not treating water can actually do,” he said. [[page-break]]

Peter Baulch, service manager at Gratte Brothers Catering Equipment, said it wouldn’t be a bad thing for manufacturers to display examples of scale-ridden appliances at conferences and exhibitions to leave operators with a visual image of what can happen to equipment. He is a fan of highlighting the “worst-case scenario” to raise awareness. “It is a bit like when we went to interlocks on gas extraction systems,” he said. “You had to keep banging it and banging it and telling people, and this is the same thing.”

John Scott, commercial manager at First Choice Group, concurred. “The reality is that we aren’t ever going to have water filtration police, are we? So we have got to work back and look at what is the best way of bombarding end-users with the right information. Is it scare stories looking at the bottom line costs? Is it focusing on the hassle or the downtime? You have got to just keep feeding that into the market.”

Panellists agreed that a more joined-up approach between those managing the CAPEX and OPEX at operator level would be helpful, as would a more consistent policy towards the way in which the kitchen is managed and serviced.

“I think at the buying stage there needs to be greater consideration to who the operator expects to hand the responsibilities down to,” said Steve Buckmaster, business account manager at Brita Professional.

“Is it the kitchen porter? Is the policy that in-house maintenance is the way forward? Or do they prefer to outsource and let somebody else look after the equipment? There are different styles of combi oven and water treatment, but the difference is that it comes down to whether the operator’s approach is preventative or reactive.”

Paul Brooker, lead technician for catering at McFarlane Telfer, added that it is not uncommon for an FM company to look after equipment such as combi ovens, only for the water filters to be the responsibility of the caterer. “I definitely think they should be sold as a package when it comes to a service and servicing point of view,” he said.

“If we are servicing a combi then we have got to be looking after the filters as well because you can tell the customer until you are blue in the face that they are exhausted, but then the next time you go back you’ll find scale all over the probes.” 

Those in the business of selling and servicing combi ovens and water solutions will need to continue singing from the same hymn sheet if the message is to get through.

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