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Is Water Filtration Worth the Money?

Water filtration systems may seem like one of those invoice line items that just drives up the cost of foodservice equipment and maintenance. These systems, however, are absolutely necessary to keep units running efficiently and to keep them in warranty.

According to John Orr, technical service manager with Dallas-based Refrigerated Specialists, Inc., on the cold side, water filters are used primarily for ice machines. Their most obvious benefit is improving the taste of beverages by purifying the water that becomes ice.

Based on the machine's engineering, a filter can also directly impact its production and energy usage.

Most cubed ice machines, Orr says, freeze water to a metal plate. When the ice is ready to be harvested, the plate heats up slightly, causing the ice to fall into a bin. "But if there's calcium and lime built up on that plate, the ice wants to stick to it. It melts half of the ice before it finally does fall. So not only do you have longer cycles, but you also lose some of the ice that you just froze. It's very inefficient and costs you a lot of electricity money."

Energy efficiency is also a major consideration for hot side equipment and water filtration can help here, too. If the walls of a steamer's boiler become covered in calcium and lime, for example, the unit's energy efficiency will drop. The piece will also take longer to reach temperature and to recover between cycles.

More harmful than poor energy efficiency, though, is the corrosion that unfiltered water can cause. Take a combi oven as a prime example. These units, which can easily cost more than $20,000, generate steam by spraying water on a heated metal plate. If chemicals like chlorine and chloramine aren't removed from that water, the plate will corrode quickly.

In fact, Orr knows of one recent case where a multi-unit operator neglected to add filters to several combi ovens. They were all ruined within a few months of installation, and because the operator didn't follow manufacturer's filtration guidelines, the warranties were voided. "As an end user, the first thing I'd do is consult any literature or the factories of the equipment I bought, just to find out what their standards are," Orr says.

After learning of their baseline filtration standards, Orr says operators should find a filtration partner who can address the specific needs of their operation and each piece of equipment, starting with a basic water test. While a municipality's water report can be found online, the particulars of a building's plumbing and even nearby infrastructure can impact an operator's water.

"I would definitely want to have somebody that would provide them with a water test and show them exactly what is in their water and what needs to be removed. You'll have guys that come in and will sell just a plain Jane carbon filter and stick it in, but there are so many different variables."

These variables mean that, in most situations, each individual piece of equipment should have a small filtration system to match its needs. Ice machines, for instance, should have a filter that removes cysts and surrounds minerals like calcium and lime with phosphates, which keeps the minerals from sticking to surfaces so they run down the drain. To prevent outbreaks of waterborne illnesses, adds Orr, the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers has recently recommended that water filters for ice machines leaves most chemicals like chlorine and chloramine in the water.

Filtration for soda systems, on the other hand, should remove chlorine, but shouldn't have those phosphates, since they interact with the carbonation and would make drinks go flat in a matter of seconds. Hot-side equipment like steamers and combis should have their own reverse osmosis systems, which remove nearly 100 percent of minerals from the water, as well as filters that take out chlorine and other chemicals used for water filtration.

While filtration systems may seem like an easy place to cut costs, operators should not give in to this temptation. By filtering to the specific needs of each unit, operators can provide a higher-quality product to their customers, improve output and efficiency, and prevent completely avoidable breakdowns.