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Preventative Maintenance Can Be Key to a Successful Summer

The increased temperatures and bump in summer business can cause trouble with refrigeration equipment but it doesn't have to. 

The summer months can present a double whammy to professional kitchens. On one hand, the extreme weather can impact the performance of certain pieces of equipment. On the other, vacationing families and young people out on summer break can make these months the busiest time of year for many foodservice establishments, placing this same equipment under the greatest strain.

It's essential, then, that operators properly maintain their foodservice equipment in advance of these challenges.

The most obvious type of equipment tested by the summer weather is refrigeration. Systems that rely on remote condensers and evaporators that sit outside, which include practically all walk-in coolers and freezers, are particularly affected. Increased heat and humidity forces these components to work harder to achieve the safe temperatures and can even lead to equipment failure, making preventative maintenance a must.

"With a walk-in cooler or freezer, you've got thousands of dollars of product in there. If its prepped product you've got hours and hours of labor in that cooler as well," says Mark LeBerte, president of Atech, a Nashville, Tenn.-based service agency. "If it goes down, you've got a high probability of losing that investment. So what you're trying to do is know all the things that cause your coolers to go down and prevent those from happening."

LeBerte recommends operators have their refrigeration serviced in the spring. Service should include the cleaning of evaporators and condensers. Checking the hinges and seals on all doors represents another essential step, he said, since a poorly sealed door can lead to even greater demands on a unit. At best, a poor seal will drive up energy costs, while at worst it will lead to equipment failure.

The ice machine represents another piece of equipment that should undergo preventative maintenance ahead of the summer months. Like refrigeration units, operators should have their ice machines serviced in the spring, including cleaning the condenser and evaporator, as well as sanitizing the water intake line and the ice holding bin.

Even if operators have these services performed, however, they might find that their ice machine is unable to keep up. The root of this is often twofold: The heat of summer spurs demand for cold drinks while also reducing how much ice a unit can produce in a given period of time.

The amount of ice a machine is advertised to produce, said LeBerte, is based on specific water temperature and air temperatures. Most machines are rated based on how they perform with 70 degree water in an ambient temperature of 90 degrees. Increase either of these, and performance will be diminished.

Operators who find their ice machine can't keep pace with the summer months should call a service agent. If there is nothing wrong with the unit, the operator could consider adding a prechiller to the machine, said LeBerte. Far more economical than investing in a new unit, this simple device acts as a heat exchanger, cooling incoming water with the chilled water ice machines normally dump every few cycles to prevent mineral buildup. LeBerte said these devices have been shown to increase ice production by 30 percent while lowering a unit's energy consumption by about the same amount.

While refrigeration and ice machines are the most obvious pieces of equipment to service ahead of the summer, LeBerte also suggested that operators take advantage of the service call and arrange to have other regular maintenance performed at the same time. Exhaust hoods, for instance, need their belts replaced twice a year, so a spring service call presents the perfect time to have that done.

The summer months can be the busiest and most lucrative time of year for foodservice operations. With a few simple steps, operators can ensure that equipment failures don't turn these boom times to bust.