Sanitation and Safety

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An Overview of Warewashers for Pizza Restaurants

Pizza restaurant dish rooms, like those in other foodservice segments, continue to shrink in size. These cramped spaces can be difficult environments for staff to work in as well as inefficient when ergonomics are an issue.

It stands to reason that today’s operations benefit greatly from good warewashing systems and loading/unloading processes that keep the dish room moving. The type of unit that best suits an operation depends on the kitchen, restaurant’s volume and type of ware being washed.

Door Machines

Hot-temp door machines remain a popular choice for many pizzerias as these machines have a higher chamber height and can wash anything up to 27 inches tall. This includes large-diameter pizza pans, standard-size sheet pans and 60-quart mixing bowls.

Lower-volume restaurants tend to choose single-door machines, which have a 19-inch opening, rather than the taller version.

Door-type machines have many wash cycles for various cleaning needs. The normal cycle can handle glassware, like beer mugs and pitchers, along with plates and utensils. Pots, pans and heavily soiled items benefit from the extra heavy cycle, which lasts about five minutes versus one minute for regular washing and sanitizing.

Conveyor Machines

Larger pizza operations can consider conveyor machines, available in 44- and 66-inch sizes. These units work best in restaurants with high volume that require increased throughput.

Glass Washers

Pizza operations with a bar area may want to consider adding glass washers. These small undercounter machines measure between 36 and 38 inches tall to fit under the bar. Rotary-type machines wash and sanitize glassware in about 15 seconds, while other types have 90-second cycles.

Up until a couple of years ago, the only glass washers available were low-temp machines. Because these only heat water between 120 degrees F and 140 degrees F, chemical sanitizing was required. This type was preferable because, unlike with high-temp units, no steam was released into the bar area when the door was opened after washing. However, the downside was the smell of chlorine and that sanitizing chemicals could impact the taste of beverages.

Newer ventless glass washers have systems that evacuate the steam out of the unit at the end of the cycle, eliminating hot and potentially damaging clouds of steam.

Ventless Option

Becoming more popular in the last eight years or so, ventless warewashers eliminate the need for hoods or exhaust fans because no steam escapes these units. With these units, a fan draws steam out of the chamber at the end of the rinse cycle, pulling it into the warewasher’s heat exchanger. When the door opens after the rinse cycle, no steam escapes.

The warewasher can utilize this to heat incoming wash water, thus increasing energy and saving money on electricity typically used for heating the water from 110 degrees F to 180 degrees F for washing.

Pizza operators should check local codes and requirements before committing to a ventless warewasher. Although this technology increases the cost of these machines, it can save money on utilities used for heating wash water as well as cooling kitchen environments over the long term.

Energy Star

From an operational standpoint, dishwashers are one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in a kitchen. Commercial dishwashers that have earned the Energy Star are on average 40 percent more energy efficient and 40 percent more water efficient than standard models, according to Energy Star.

The designation applies to high-temp (hot water sanitizing), low-temp (chemical sanitizing) and dual-sanitizing machines. This includes undercounter, single-tank door type, single-tank conveyor, multiple-tank conveyor and flight-type machines. Glasswashing machines as well as pot, pan and utensil machines are also eligible for Energy Star designation.

Warewasher Care

In the pizza segment, an estimated 75 percent of warewashers are leased, with the company that owns the machine paying for sanitizing chemicals and maintenance.

“This company is responsible for keeping the unit free of lime buildup, making sure screens are cleaned and checking the motor to ensure it’s not running on higher amps, which indicates a problem,” says Bob Gilpatrick, director of service at Hagar Restaurant Service in Oklahoma City. “This is one portion of the restaurant that will be checked by the health department, so warewasher care is key or the operation can be shut down.” 

Pan screens need cleaning regularly, and operators should regularly wipe down stainless surfaces with a mild detergent to prevent rust and corrosion.

Signs that indicate a machine needs service or replacement include excessive rust and corrosion and unusual loud noises during operation, which may indicate bearing problems or motor issues. “Just like a car, these unusual noises signify the warewasher needs servicing or it is at risk of breaking down,” says Gilpatrick.

Purchasing Considerations

Because most pizza restaurants don’t use much ware, single-door machines are most prevalent in this segment. “High-temp as opposed to low-temp machines are preferable,” says Dan Bendall, principal at FoodStrategy Inc., located in Rockville, Md. “This is because, when dealing with animal fats from cheese and meats like sausage and pepperoni, it’s more effective to remove grease with hot water and heat than with chemicals.”

With booster heaters and water use, warewashers are the single biggest energy-consuming pieces of equipment in commercial kitchens. Today, however, most models are energy and water efficient, using less than a gallon of water per rack for each wash cycle.

“Operators that have an 8- to 10-year-old machine should be aware that the energy consumption is vastly different,” says Bendall. “They are using a lot more water and electricity to wash dishes with these units, so it’s best to do a quick payback analysis of purchasing a new warewasher. Water can be pricey, and newer machines are much more efficient.”

The ware being washed also needs consideration. Larger operations may require a conveyor machine. “These pull racks through the wash tank and a rinse area and then out as opposed to dishes staying in the zones and wash and rinse happening in same place,” says Bendall. “This speeds up and even triples the dishwashing volume. Instead of one rack per minute or 60 racks per hour, conveyor machines can handle 180 to more than 200 racks per minute.”

Pizza operators also should consider water softness or hardness, which contributes to lime and scale buildup.