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Prep Equipment

A Guide to Purchasing and Maintaining Prep Sinks

Local health codes mandate the size of commercial kitchen prep sinks a foodservice operation require. This includes the number and size of bowls, water levels, backsplash heights and drain board sizes.

prep sinks straining produceOperators use prep sinks to properly wash dirt and other contaminants from food before preparation. Menu-specific applications for prep sinks include made-from-scratch salads, fruit dishes and vegetarian-style meals.

Sink components include a backsplash, compartments or bowls, a drain board, front roll rim, legs and fittings. Operators may choose between fabricated or deep-drawn bowls. Some applications mount sinks on a wall, but adjustable bullet feet help provide level-setting support for these units. In addition, operators can order most sinks with braced legs that prevent wobbling during use.

The standard prep sink size measures 4 to 6 feet long and 24 or 36 inches wide. The sink bowls themselves typically feature 304 stainless-steel, 14-gauge construction. Welded bases are available, too.

When specifying a prep sink, pick a unit large enough to hold a quantity of bulk product that staff will need to wash and rinse.

Operators can customize their units to become three-compartment prep sinks with a disposer welded either into the top or into one of the sink bowls. Oftentimes, these types of sinks will come with polymer cutting boards that fit on the bowl’s top. This feature allows staff to trim and cut fruits and vegetables without having to walk to another work area. The scraps will go into the disposer. It’s important to check with local health departments as more municipalities are not allowing the use of disposers in commercial kitchens. When not in use, operators can store the cutting boards in a stainless-steel slot type holder welded under the sinks.

Sinks with antimicrobial coatings may slow down the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew that may cause stains, odors and degradation of wash surfaces.

Purchasing Considerations

Many operators do not consider the orientation of the cutting table when choosing a prep sink, but the workstation represents an important aspect of the design. Operators need to consider placement of the cutting area and whether it will be on one or both sides of the sink.

Multi-unit operators may have to mirror other operations with their prep sinks, so they need to keep in mind that most staff will be right-handed.

Prep sink placement serves as another consideration; it should be adjacent to a cooler. The number of prep sinks depends on how many hours the operation will use them and the volume of products staff will prep. In some cases, operators may choose a three-compartment sink, but not all municipalities require this; it depends on the products.

Operators should use prep sinks mainly for cleaning foods and slicing fruits and vegetables. These are not designated for handwashing. Sinks featuring anything but a straight-line design may not fit through an operation’s door in one piece. In this case, they must be brought into a kitchen in pieces and then welded into a single unit.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Prep sink cleaning and maintenance is basic. Frequently cleanse and sanitize sinks to avoid rust and corrosion. When cleaning stainless-steel sinks, use only mild soap and water or nonabrasive cleansers since abrasive cleansers will scratch and dull surfaces. After cleaning, thoroughly rinse and wipe sinks dry. Don’t use steel wool on stainless steel.

Care for the drains, which can leak. Drain screens are recommended. The number of solids in water are tested these days, and although it’s easy to take out screens to drain water quicker, it is against local regulations.

The only necessary maintenance occurs when the faucet or drain leaks. Physically, the only thing that wears out on the sink itself are the edges, which can get damaged from pans being run across them. Welds also can break over years of use.

Signs a sink is failing include broken welds, faucets or drain systems, which operators can update or fix. Reasons to replace a prep sink include requiring a larger unit to accommodate increased volumes.

Other signs that it’s time to replace a prep sink include leaks from the stainless-steel structure and not from drain fittings. If leaking is from a drain fitting, it is most likely a seal leak that can repaired by a plumber. If leaks come from the stainless structure, including the corners, bottom of the bowl or where the sink’s bowl meets the drain boards, consider replacing the unit.

Dents in the sink bowl bottoms and drain boards are typically signs that the sink has reached the end of its service life or the metal gauge of the sink construction is too light for the application. Upon replacement, if the latter is determined, operators should opt to purchase a heavier gauge sink. The dents create sanitation issues due to not draining properly and holding water, which may create bacteria and contamination.

Corrosion serves as another sign of sink deterioration, and the operator should consider replacing the unit. This may result from rust caused by several issues ranging from overly caustic or unapproved food-safe cleaning materials to staff dumping food and/or highly acidic liquids into the bowl. Cleaning materials or food product such as pickle juice will corrode sinks that do not get thoroughly washed, rinsed and sanitized. Also, what appears to be rust at times can simply be various food product residues that have accumulated on the surface due to a lack of cleaning. Proper cleaning methods can remove this buildup, and doing so will make a big difference in the appearance of the sink.

Menu changes and increases in business may require other equipment modifications in the kitchen, such as an increase in prep that needs more space to complete this task. If the sink is not sized properly, this would also drive the need for a replacement.

It is crucial that all service sink faucets have a vacuum breaker to prevent backflow — an unsanitary consequence. For food safety purposes, operators should install NSF-rated sinks whenever possible. These must be manufactured with radius seams, coved corners and integrally welded drain boards for the most effective sanitation.

Some sink designs can accommodate undercounter warewashers.

Mobile hand-washing sink carts are useful for kitchens with limited space or where a free water line is not readily available, such as in outdoor cooking stations.

Sinks with antimicrobial coatings slow down the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew that may cause stains, odors and degradation of wash surfaces.

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