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3 Keys to Savings in the Dish Room

Small changes with procedures and equipment can add up to big bucks. 

The dish room is a very important part of a foodservice operation. Clean, sanitized dishes, flatware and cooking tools are essential to promoting a quality impression and dining safety. It’s something you can’t afford to skimp on. Even so, there are ways to save money when it comes to water and energy.

You already know the importance of controlling water temperature to save energy and maximize the effectiveness of dishwashing chemicals and cleansers. And repairing leaks or small drips so they don’t waste gallons of water every day is an obvious callout. But by digging a little deeper into procedures and machine maintenance—you can find many more ways to save. Let’s take a look:

1. Procedures pay off in many ways

“There is a direct correlation between a clean and safe environment and a foodservice operator’s profitability,” says Dave Coulter, a Sealed Air/Diversey Care employee Manager based in Mississauga, Ontario. His experience working with operators has shown him many ways to save money when it comes to equipment, operating procedures and labour.

Start with training. Every part of a foodservice operation requires training, and the dish room is no exception. Operators need to know where to find efficiencies in all parts of the dishwashing process—from pre-scraping to proper racking to chemical usage.

“Worker training is critical in achieving first-pass results,” Coulter says. “Getting pots, pans and dishes clean the first time and saves water, energy, chemicals, labour and time.”

One mistake that often occurs is when workers wash sheet pans, cutting boards and other large, flat items one at a time by laying them flat in the rack rather than using a proper sheet pan rack. These racks allow for proper separation and allow for washing multiple pieces rather than one at a time. Also, washing large items flat in a rack misdirects wash and rinse water, causing inefficiency and waste.

Presoak properly. “Presoaking allows food soils to be loosened and improves the likelihood of first-pass results,” Coulter says. “It also helps remove stains from things like coffee cups and reduces spotty cutlery.” Be sure to rinse the presoak solution off before the wash cycle, otherwise it can foam up inside the dish machine.

Don’t overlook pre-scraping. Baked-on or stuck-on foods can be tough to clean. We all know this from cleaning dishes at home, says Tami Stob, a Gordon Food Service Chemical & Beverage Category Manager. Spraying or scraping off food particles from plates, pans and cookware before washing improves dish machine performance and prevents running extra loads, Stob says.

“The dish machine is not a garbage disposal,” Coulter adds. “You’d be surprised how many toothpicks, butter containers and even cutlery are pulled out of dishwasher pump motors.”

And when the dish machine fails, Coulter says the backup plan is to hand-wash every piece until repairs are made—a time-consuming process that takes staffers away from their guests or from performing other tasks critical to running the business smoothly.

Racking racks up savings. Sorting dishes by type and loading them into the rack properly makes sure each dish is exposed to the water spray and detergents during washing. Items tipped the wrong way results in water pooling and not cleaning effectively.

Underloaded and overloaded racks also are a problem, Coulter says. Underloaded racks waste water, heat and detergent because the dish machine is programmed to wash the same way whether the rack is full or not. Overloading is just as wasteful. If water and detergents are shielded by overloaded items, you risk not getting them clean and needing a second pass.

“Every time the dishwasher door is open and closed, there is a cost associated with washing that rack of dishes,” Coulter says. “Operators who insert half empty racks or racks with one large stock pot are wasting time, water, energy, chemicals and labour.”

And don’t overlook broken pegs on a dish rack—a broken rack cannot be fully loaded or loaded properly. Efficiency suffers either way, and that will quickly cost more than the expense of replacing the broken rack.

Aim for one-pass efficiency. A common thread in each of these procedures is getting the job done right the first time. One pass through the conveyor system means water, energy, chemical and labour efficiency. It also protects an operation’s brand, Coulter says, noting that clean and sanitized dishes play a key part in guest satisfaction and safety. Through it all, cost savings really do matter to the bottom line.

“Washing things twice or three times, because of poor procedures risks doubling or even tripling an operator’s costs,” Coulter says. “It may seem only pennies at a time, but over a year it adds up—ask any operator if they would pay double or triple for their food costs, staff wages or building lease.”

2. Water softeners pay big dividends

Water quality not only affects the choice of detergent and rinse aid, but it also affects performance of the dish machine. Hard water is a particular problem, causing lime scale buildup inside the machine. Lime scale buildup will leave residue on dishware and cause clean glasses to be spotty.

Without a water softener, lime scale buildup happens more quickly and a delimer chemical cycle must be run in an empty dish machine. If this is done every couple of days, it really adds up.

The bottom line, Coulter says, is that “soft water equals less detergent and good results.” Some industry experts estimate eliminating hard water could save 30 percent on cleaning and chemicals.

3. Machine maintenance is a must

Like an automobile, your dish machine has moving parts and sensors that keep it running at its best. Caring for its operation means more effective and cost-efficient washing. Watch rinse arms and jets to make sure they’re not plugged with soil or lime scale buildup. Probe sensors also need to function properly so detergents are dispensed in the right amount and the heating element is doing its job.

Help is only a call away

There are a lot of ways to improve dish room efficiency. Dish cleaning and machine care are a science, and the highly trained Diversey professionals can perform maintenance and offer advice to make sure your dishes are getting cleaned effectively and economically. “Tiny changes to your procedures can have a big payoff,” Coulter says.