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Pandemic Restart: Hot Side Kitchen Tips

Office buildings, schools and events venues that aren’t already open will likely resume operations in the coming weeks and months. These restarts will include commercial kitchens for cafeterias and food vendors.

Foodservice directors can’t just flip a switch and get their kitchens operational again, though. They need to take steps to get equipment running and ready for necessary service calls.

The work for a service agent begins the moment the kitchen door opens, according to Paul Sturgess, project superintendent with Georgia-based SAM Service. Sturgess is certified as a master technician by the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association. It’s not unheard of for kitchens that have been shut down for extended periods to develop gas leaks, he says. Operators who walk into kitchens that have been closed and smell gas, should immediately leave the building and call 911 to report a gas leak.

If there’s no gas issue, there’s a simple restart order operators should follow: Clean, start-up, preventative maintenance service.

Cleaning idle equipment isn’t complicated, but it will take some elbow grease. Grime left sitting for months will likely be caked on. On the hot side, the basic tasks include cleaning cooking chambers and cavities and checking vents to make sure they’re clear of debris.

After cleaning the units, operators should start their equipment. "At a start-up, operators should keep their eyes and ears open for problems," says Sturgess. They need to pay attention to abnormal noises, he notes, like a fan rattling. “It's like riding in your car,” he says. “If you hear something unusual, you better get that checked out.”

If a piece of equipment won’t even turn on, tap the brakes before calling a service agency, Sturgess says. In these situations, operators should check their power supply first. “Have your maintenance guys check the breaker. We get calls all the time and it's just somebody has turned the breaker off. The customer has to pay for it, but honestly they can check that themselves and save $75.”

Sturgess recommends operators begin restarting efforts at least two weeks before reopening. That will leave plenty of time to clean thoroughly. It also gives a nice cushion for scheduling repairs or a planned maintenance call.

Operators that haven’t opened back up are no doubt eager to get back to work. A smooth restart isn’t guaranteed, though. By taking steps to clean and prep cooking equipment for use, operators can get back up and running as quickly and easily as possible.

Specific start-back-up guidelines for most pieces of hot-side equipment:

  • Ovens: Clean the interior chamber, check the door and gaskets, and light the pilot on gas units.
  • Combi ovens: Most combis have cleaning cycles; run a cycle or two with a cleaning solution approved by the manufacturer.
  • Fryers: Check the filter pump. This may be clogged with hardened grease, which would require a service call. If the filter pump is clear, perform a boil out on the unit.
  • Chargrills: Clean the grates and check the burners for rust. Operators may need to replace rusted burners.
  • Flattop grills: Clean the surface, start up and check the temperature at different spots on the surface. Hot or cold spots could be a sign that the unit needs calibration or that there are more serious problems.
  • Steam tables: Wipe down the well, fill it with water and start it up. If the water does not heat, the unit needs service.
  • Kettles and tilt skillets: Both are like steam tables. Clean, fill, start and check for performance. If they aren’t working, they need service.