On a recent trip, I traveled to the mid-Atlantic region in order to tour a prominent university's newest dining venue. The front-of-house portion of the facility was extremely attractive, offering a number of different dining options to avoid "food fatigue" by the regular patrons. I was making note of various design techniques during our guided tour by the facility's manager when all of a sudden I stopped cold in my tracks. What existed before me was flabbergasting! Mind-boggling! It was … the ware washing area. I could not understand how any professional team could implement such wonderful ideas in one part of the facility, and such awful ideas in another.
Before our tour guide could even point out the ware washing area, I turned to him and in all honesty uttered these words … "I feel your pain!" And I certainly did. He lowered his head, shaking it from side to side, and began to tell me some of his ware washing war stories. Though the facility had been open just a few months, the inconveniences caused by this design were evident in almost every part of the facility. And because they had not yet reached their anticipated volume, the problem was only going to get worse with the increased traffic.
Understanding the Basics
This was not the first facility that I had seen with a ware washing area that would be unable to support the operation for which it was designed, and I am sure that it will not be the last. It is my hope, however, that I will be able to shed some light on the subject and help future foodservice operators avoid similar mistakes. In reviewing the requirements for a ware washing area, I though it would be best to start with the basics. Regardless of the size or type of a foodservice facility, a three-compartment sink will be required. The three compartments are for Washing, Rinsing, and Sanitizing the wares (dishes, flatware, pots, pans, etc.) - in that order. Now, some jurisdictions do require four-compartment sinks where the fourth compartment is a separate dumping and scrapping compartment. Many of you may be surprised to learn, however, that a dish machine is completely optional. That's right … even the largest of hotels can open its doors without purchasing a dish machine, but we will discuss this later in greater detail.
Knowing that we are required to sanitize all soiled wares, it is important to note that there are two methods of sanitization that may be used. The first is by temperature, and is referred to throughout the industry as the high-temp method. The high-temperature method requires a final rinse by water that is at a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the water will kill any remaining micro-organisms. Test strips and temperature gauges (if on a dish machine) may be used to confirm that the required temperature has been reached. The second method for sanitizing is chemical, which relies on a chemical solution to kill off any remaining harmful biological elements. Some of the chemicals that may be used include chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium compounds, referred to as quats. Both of these methods of sanitizing, high-temperature and chemical, are acceptable by the health department and can be used in either a three compartment sink or a dish machine.
Which is Better?
With both the high-temperature and chemical options available, you may be wondering which is better. In my opinion, the high-temperature solution is best to use in dish machines, where possible, as it does not rely upon the proper mixture of chemicals to be effective. If the chemical solution ratio is off just a bit, its effectiveness in killing micro-organisms will be reduced or even eliminated, thereby providing a false sense of security to the operator. The high-temperature machines do a better job of removing certain residues (such as food or lipstick) than the low temperature machines. Also, the 180 degree final rinse causes the water to bead off more quickly, reducing the drying time and the space required to allow the items to dry.
It should be noted, however, that the infrastructure for a high-temperature dish machine is far greater than that of a chemical machine due to the requirement of a condensate hood - a hood system designed to remove heat and moisture from the room. Use of a high-temperature machine without a condensate hood can lead to mold problems, and is typically restricted by local building authorities. It is this additional cost that often causes operators to choose chemical machines, despite the superior performance of the high-temperature units. When it comes to three-compartment sinks, the chemical method is most commonly used. Though the high-temperature method can be used in a three compartment sink as well, it requires an additional heater (increased cost) and employees to submerge their hands in 180 degree water (inconvenience and safety concerns).
It All Comes Down to Labor
As I mentioned earlier, you can run an entire banquet kitchen, even one that supports functions of thousands of people, with only a standard single-tank, door-type dish machine that you might find in any average restaurant. It's true! The machine will do its job, washing one rack of dishes at a time. The labor required to process and clean these wares, however, would be significantly impacted. Though a smaller machine can ultimately handle the load, consider the impact for a moment that would result from the bottle-neck that would be caused by this machine. The soiled wares would have to sit around for quite some time before they could all be cleaned. The longer that these dishes sit around, the harder it is to remove the soil. In the end, additional labor would be required to pre-scrap the wares and to hang around the property until all of the wares had been cleaned.
In addition to taking up valuable floor space while waiting to be processed, the risk of cross-contamination from the soiled wares residing in the banquet corridors or main ware washing area is substantial. Also, because such a design would require additional time to clean all of the soiled dishes, a larger than average smallwares inventory would have to be kept on hand in order to handle multiple events, thereby increasing the dollars that would be tied up in hard goods and extra storage space. While this example is one that is extreme, the same symptoms - though perhaps not to the same extent - will be experienced in any facility with an undersized ware washing area.
In this first of two installments on the issue of ware washing, it was my hope to address the actual requirements associated with this area of the kitchen. In the next installment, I will review some of the design techniques used to ensure the effectiveness of ware washing facilities in establishments of all sizes. Thinking back to the shock I had on my recent facility tour, I know that my tour guide - the facility manager - will certainly support me on this one. The ware washing area, if designed poorly, can affect the entire operation.