While the basics of most cooking equipment hasn’t changed in decades (or even longer), the past several years have seen kitchen equipment manufacturers build remote monitoring into their products. If used properly, this technology can play an important role in equipment maintenance and food safety, both now and in the future.
Higher-tech functions continue to have the greatest impact on the cold side. More operators now use remote monitoring systems to ensure their refrigerators and freezers maintain safe temperatures, according to Rusty Parke, vice president of operations for Indianapolis-based Vanco Commercial Service. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in K-12. They’re asking if there’s any type of system [that can monitor their refrigeration] if they lose a freezer or something when they’re away on breaks.”
These systems, which can be either built in to equipment by the manufacturer or purchased from a third party, can be set up to send emails or texts to operators when a piece of equipment’s temperature falls out of the safe zone for a set amount of time. Once that happens, operators can reach out to a service agency about a possible repair call.
Such monitoring, Parke notes, has other uses, too. Many governing bodies require operators to track the temperature of their refrigerators multiple times a day. These systems can automatically store temperature data and allow operators to access it via the internet, removing much of the human element and reducing the demands on employees.
Further, these systems can help diagnose hard-to-pinpoint refrigeration issues, Parke adds. By placing a sensor outside a box that’s having trouble, service agents can determine whether the ambient temperature is so high that the unit can’t maintain temperature. Service agents simply need to look in the temperature logs for the times when the refrigerator is out of the safe zone and see if the nearby ambient temperature spikes at that same time, Parke says.
While operators and service agents use remote monitoring to maintain their cold equipment, these options aren’t as widely used on the hot side, Parke says. Makers of higher-end equipment have started building remote monitoring systems into their products, but to date, he hasn’t seen any service notifications that were automatically generated from these units.
Parke acknowledges there’s potential in remote monitoring on the hot side. He also stresses that high-tech advances must ultimately save operators money. While that’s an easy sell with refrigeration and the thousands of dollars (or more) of product they hold, the value proposition for cooking equipment isn’t as clear. “If we’re dealing with just standing pilots and burner valves and things of that nature, there’s probably not much worth on something like that,” he says. “If it’s a high-efficiency combi oven that’s $50,000 to $60,000, we might have more worth there, but we also need to prove that those additional dollars spent at the time of manufacturing and purchase are worth it. Where are my savings? Put it in my P&L, so to speak.”
Looking ahead, Parke sees the biggest opportunities for remote monitoring in warewashing and ice machines. On the ice machine front, he hopes remote monitoring could keep an eye out for the mold and slime that can so easily form in these units.
For warewashers, such programs could monitor the final rinse water temperature to guarantee that dishes are coming out sanitized and ready for use again. “We have not found the temperature monitoring system to work with a commercial dish application. Operators are having to chart those [temperatures] the same as refrigeration,” Parke says.
Whether remote monitoring plays a major role in the maintenance of all kitchen equipment or stays primarily on the cold side remains to be seen. In either case, operators should explore the technology today to see how it can benefit them now and in the future.