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Archive | November, 2011

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Replacing Equipment

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Replacing Equipment“Which _____________ do you recommend?” This is a question I have been asked countless times by owners/managers that operate the restaurants I have worked in.

The real question they are asking is: “What equipment will run the longest and have the fewest breakdowns and cost the least to fix?”

The answer to such a profound question is “it depends.” I have been involved in repairing restaurant equipment for years. I have worked on a lot of different equipment made by many different manufactures. I cannot name a single brand of equipment that I would recommend in all situations. Nor have I discovered a manufacturer that designed equipment with an eye towards maintenance.

I have found some companies where the replacement parts are less expensive when compared to similar products. I have also found the reverse: particular brands of equipment where the replacement parts were higher than others who make equipment of the same type. The biggest difference I find in various manufactures is the AVAILIBILITY of replacement parts in a timely manner.

Some things to consider when buying restaurant equipment:

Is the equipment a “KEY” or “critical” to your operation? In other words, if this equipment went out on a busy Saturday night, how bad would it affect your ability to serve your customer? You need to know how critical the equipment is before you make any decision on what brand of equipment to purchase! If the equipment is a “KEY” piece of equipment, you need to do some research before you buy! Remember, you will likely own this equipment for YEARS. If you make the wrong decision, you will be stuck with the results for as long as you own the equipment.

1. Company (or Brand)
I would not buy a “key” piece of equipment in anything except a well known national brand. The reason goes way beyond what kind of warranty is offered. A well known national brand will be in business 10 years down the road when you need a good service department to call.

2. Warranty
The warranty on equipment can vary widely. What’s more, the way warranty service is performed can also be different from one company to the next. Some equipment has different warranties with regard to various parts of the equipment. For instance, an ice machine might have a one year warranty on everything except the compressor that comes with a 5 year warranty. Inform yourself on the warranty and what it covers. Your new equipment will come with a warranty card. Read it and send the little card in and register the equipment.

I make a copy of the card before I send it in and staple the copy to the operator manual for future reference. It has vital information you might not have in 10 years such as the model and serial numbers along with the date it was installed.

3. Parts AvailabilityAdventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Replacing Equipment
You should inquire on how hard the equipment is to get parts for. This is where it is critical to have purchased a well known national brand. You should not rely on the salesman to provide you this information. I would call a place that sells parts and just ask. The question should be something like this: “I am buying a _____________, do you stock parts for this equipment? If I were to order a critical part, how long would it take to receive it?”

In other words, does the company keep critical parts ON THE SHELF for this equipment? No company keeps ALL the parts for any given equipment in stock; a good company, however, will keep CRITICAL parts available to ship right away on common equipment. This can make a REAL difference on a “KEY” piece of equipment when you have to have it back up and running FAST.

4. Model
You should try and buy a model that has been made for several years. Most manufacturers will make popular models of equipment for several years before changing anything significant. You might be looking for the latest “bells and whistles” on your new equipment and have to purchase a model that just came out; but unless it is something you HAVE to have, I would not recommend it. It takes parts companies time to determine the critical parts needed and spend the money to put them on the shelves. If you stick with a tried and true model, you will likely have less headaches in the future if it should break down.

Another good reason not to go with the “newest model” is your kitchen will not be stuck with working out the “kinks” on something that has not been tested in the “real world.” Chances are it will be warranty work, but you will still suffer some down time waiting for a technician to show up and fix it.

Under no circumstances do you want a “prototype” model. You will have to investigate the model number you are buying to insure you are getting what you want. You can’t count on a salesperson telling you “this is the prototype!” The manufacturer’s website is a good place to find out; or just call the tech service line and ask one of the technicians that work for the manufacturer what he or she thinks of a given model. These folks are usually honest about problems with a particular model.

Use all the information available to make a decision you can feel good about not only now but when the equipment breaks down in a few years. You notice I said WHEN it breaks down; not IF it breaks down. All equipment will break down! The best thing you can do is educate yourself so you will be prepared when it happens.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

This article will deal with common maintenance issues regarding commercial gas kitchen equipment. I will address issues with electric equipment in a future article.

It has been my experience that most commercial restaurant equipment is operated with natural gas. In general I believe gas equipment to be better than electric with regard to maintenance issues. Most of the systems used to deliver the gas to the burner are simple and easy to fix.

As I have said in previous posts, I don’t know how comfortable you are with working on this equipment but even if you are not comfortable at all, there are things you as a owner/manager can do to keep your service calls down and save you money on a service call if you have to have one.

In general, all gas equipment works the same way. The first thing you need to know is if your particular equipment is equipped with a “standing pilot” or “electronic ignition” (also called “spark ignition”).

The best way to determine this is by reading the service manual. If you don’t have a service manual you can determine the type of pilot system you have by visually inspecting the equipment. You will have to remove the cover that hides the burner. Once you have the cover removed look at the burner. Do you see a little fire (about the size of a lighter flame)? If you do this is what is called a “standing pilot.”

If you don’t see an actual pilot (actual flame) you probably have electronic ignition. If you have electronic ignition you will see a heavy wire that leads from the control module to the burner. A control module will look like a small box with a plastic cover and will have several wires going to it. The heavy one will look a lot like a spark plug wire (usually gray in color) that plugs into the module and leads to the igniter (this is the part that causes a spark very close to the burner when you turn the gas on).

OK, now you should know if your particular equipment has a standing pilot or electronic ignition (you might find both systems in the same kitchen).

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

An example of a thermocouple; get the model and serial number before purchasing to make sure you buy the right one!

If it is a “standing pilot” you will notice a small piece of metal that is about the size of a small pencil tip (about 2 inches long) that is in the flame. This is a thermocouple or a thermopile. It will have a tiny brass colored tube connected to it (most thermocouples) or a small wire coming out of it (most thermopiles). It might be flat on top (most thermopiles) or have a rounded point (most thermocouples).

This little piece of metal is the most likely item to go out and prevent your equipment from working. The good news is the cost of the actual part is not high.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

An example of a thermopile; get the model and serial number before purchasing to make sure you buy the right one!

The labor cost, however, can be expensive. What a thermocouple or thermopile does is send a signal to the gas valve (or safety valve) to let the valve know that a fire is present before it allows gas thru the valve to ignite the burner. The reason these go out is because they run 24/7. Even when the equipment is off, there is still gas going to the pilot light to keep the equipment ready to operate. Most thermocouples or thermopiles are only screwed in to the valve (there are some that are actually built into the safety valve and can not be replaced without replacing the valve).

If I were you I would make a list of all the equipment I have that has a “standing pilot” system and locate the part number for the thermocouple or thermopile and keep a new one on hand. Please be aware that the manufacturer might use several different thermopiles or thermocouples on different equipment (even if made by the same company).

Get the model number and serial number off the equipment and call a parts supply to buy a replacement. This is without a doubt the most likely part to go out and cause your gas equipment to quit working. Even if you call someone in to repair the equipment; it is better to let them use the one you provide (the repair companies often “mark up” the parts they charge you for).

In any case they don’t cost much and it could mean the difference between having your equipment working or not. Some are easy to change, some are difficult (Vulcan fryers come to mind when I think of difficult thermopiles) but the equipment will not work without them.

In a future article I will talk a little about safety valves (the second most likely thing to go out), and whether it would be cost effective to stock some of these that is on your most critical equipment.

Electronic ignition (or spark ignition):

These systems use a small electric spark to ignite the burner. When you turn on the equipment and listen close you will hear a small “click” or “snap” that might happen several times before the burner ignites.

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Gas Equipment

An example of a control module; get the model and serial number before purchasing to make sure you buy the right one!

That’s the igniter sending a small spark across two points. The most likely item to go out on this system is the control module (described above). These parts can be expensive but it could be worth keeping an extra one on hand for critical pieces of gas equipment.

These are good units and I don’t have many go out but it is another part that you HAVE to replace if it does go out (in other words, you can not fix a control module). Some of these come with a replacement wire (looks like a spark plug wire), some will not. If I replace the module I replace the wire. The wire plugs in and is easy to replace.

Before I end this entry, I need to warn you that working with gas can be dangerous!

You must always turn the gas off before working on this equipment!

There are things you as a owner / manager can do but you will have to invest the time to educate yourself on the safe way to do it. I will take this opportunity again to urge you to get the service manual for your equipment and buy Don Walker’s book Keeping Your Gas Restaurant Equipment Cooking. It has a lot more detail than I can give you in a short blog entry.

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I’ll sum this up by saying: you can save yourself a lot of money and down time by being able to do minor repairs on your own equipment.

Even if you pay someone to come out and fix the equipment you can save money if you have the right part “in stock”. In the case of the thermopile / thermocouple it is not a matter of IF it will go out, but WHEN it will go out (you can bet it will be on a Saturday of a very busy weekend if your restaurant is like the kitchen I work in).

Spend a few bucks and get the parts; it will save you a LOT of time and aspirin in the long run!

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Green Restaurant Tips: Recycling Feels Good

Green Restaurant Tips: Recycling Feels GoodUnlike the tips previously offered in this series, recycling probably won’t save your restaurant or commercial kitchen money.  And recycling will probably add work to your schedule and headaches to your day.

So why recycle?  Well, there are a few very compelling reasons, and not all of them altruistic, for introducing a recycling program:

Customers love it.  You’ve been reading other Going Green Tips and have started implementing strategies that boost energy efficiency in your restaurant and allow you to advertise to customers that you’re a green restaurant.  Customer loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising are up.  Things are going great.

That will change fast if you don’t recycle.  To your customers, this is the most fundamental green practice, and if they don’t see a blue bin next to the trash bin, you’re going to lose a lot more credibility than you think.  On the other hand, if you not only offer recycling in the front of the house (where not much can be recycled anyway) but also advertise your back of house recycling program, that gives you a legitimacy that helps with your overall green restaurant marketing strategy.

A recycling program puts you ahead of the curve.  More and more state and local laws are requiring restaurants and commercial kitchens to implement a recycling program.  So why not stay ahead of the curve?  You’ll probably end up having a recycling program anyway, so why not get in the swing of things now and turn it into part of your marketing strategy?

Recycling also helps you get a Green Restaurant Certification from the Green Restaurant Association.  You may want to consider pursuing a full certification from the GRA as part of your commitment to building a sustainable green business.

Recycling does, in fact, feel good.  There’s not much money in it, but hopefully money isn’t the only thing you care about.  Recycling makes your customers feel good, and it should make you feel good too.  Reducing waste through recycling is a key element to achieving sustainability in our economy, and your participation makes a difference, no matter if you run a small mom-and-pop restaurant or a huge commercial kitchen.

More recycling tips:

Buy post-consumer products whenever possible.  Post-consumer means the item was made entirely or partly from recycled materials.  Buying these products creates more demand in the recycled materials market, which encourages more people and businesses to recycle.  You’ll also be conserving natural resources like timber by purchasing post-consumer products.

Employ reusable items whenever possible.  This applies mostly to the front of the house.  You can significantly reduce waste by introducing reusable napkins, dinner and small wares, glasses, and tablecloths.  The slightly raised cost of washing these items is usually offset by reduced waste removal costs, and as waste removal costs rise, as they are sure to do, your costs stay the same.

Recycle kitchen oil as well.  Recycling used frying and vegetable oil is now easier than ever since the advent of biodiesel and other oil recycling technologies.  Locate a local company that processes used oil and they will provide disposal bins and may even pay you to give them your used oil.

You can also make oil last longer by using an fryer oil filter, which pumps the oil out of your fryer, passes it through a filter to clean it of debris, and then deposits it back in the fryer.  This machine will pay for itself with the savings you realize on buying fryer oil.

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9 Restaurant Management Tips

9 Restaurant Management TipsAs you know, restaurant management is more than a full time job.  It means long hours and lots of hard work.  Here at The Back Burner we understand that restaurant managers and owners are always on the go and that every day is a challenge to meet revenue goals, keep both customers and employees happy, and still retain a little sanity at the end.

Over the past few months we’ve published several articles aimed at giving you tips on how to make things run more efficiently, smoothly, and hopefully, more profitably in your restaurant.  Here’s a recap of the best of those articles:

  1. How To Deal With Employee Theft – High turnover means you always have employees who are either new or are untrustworthy or both.  Some key tips on dealing with theft when it happens and also how to prevent it in the first place.
  2. Should Your Restaurant Have A Website? – The simple answer to this question is yes, definitely, without a single doubt.  In this article we’ll also tell you how to start and manage a website easily.
  3. Be Like A Stock Broker – Not that any of the large investment banks followed their own advice in recent years, but typically a stock broker will tell you to diversify your revenue.  Here’s how to do so in your restaurant.
  4. How To Implement A HACCP Food Safety Program – This is a complete guide to implementing a HACCP program in your restaurant, from start to finish.  If you’re not familiar with the principles and implementation of HACCP, this is a must read!
  5. Stop Giving Waste Fryer Oil Away! - A new invention will be able to turn your waste oil into electricity, which could end up saving your restaurant A LOT of money.
  6. 7 Tips On How To Email Market For Restaurants – Email marketing can be a very cost-effective way to reach your customers.  Learn how to implement an email marketing program in this article.
  7. 4 Steps To Managing Your Reputation Online - With the advent of social media, everybody who visits your restaurant is an opinion maker.  Learn how to respond to what people are saying online in this post.
  8. Why Your Restaurant Should Start Catering… And 4 Simple Steps To Start – Customers are staying home in record numbers this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to buy your restaurant’s delicious food.  Learn why you should start catering today.
  9. 4 Steps To Keep “Inventory Shrink” From Making Profits Smaller – Whether inventory in your restaurant is intentionally stolen or accidentally stolen because it’s thrown away, controlling shrink is key to boosting your profits.

No matter what segment your restaurant is in, tweaking restaurant operations can make a big difference on the bottom line.

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Troubleshooting Gas Range and Oven Problems

Troubleshooting Gas Range and Oven ProblemsIf your gas range or oven is down, chances are you’re looking for a way to fix it fast.  Luckily, troubleshooting most problems with commercial gas equipment is fairly easy as long as you know how to replace a few key parts.

To learn more, simply click the link below that corresponds to the part or the problem you’re having and get taken directly to the answer.

Remember: whenever you work on gas equipment, turn off the gas first!

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Use Ice Machine Water Filters For More Than Just Ice

Use Ice Machine Water Filters For More Than Just IceIf you don’t do so already, you should definitely consider filtering the water you serve your customers.  We have already covered water filtration here on The Back Burner, but if you need to filter a glass filler specifically, the best way to do so is with an ice machine water filter.  That’s because you get everything you need for filtering drinking water from a water filter made for ice machines.  After all, properly filtered ice is simply frozen drinking-quality water.

An ice machine water filter will remove cyst, bacteria, taste, odor, and sediment from your restaurant’s tap water, making it just as good if not better than anything that comes in a bottle.  Ice machine water filters also have a built-in scale inhibitor that removes hard minerals.

Any ice machine water filter will work for your glass filler, but I strongly recommend a Cuno filter.  Cuno’s newest filters are single cartridge affairs (as opposed to multiple cartridge systems like Everpure), meaning they take up less space and are easier to replace.  This is especially true because the replacement cartridge doesn’t require pre-charging and it can be plugged directly into the filter head while minimizing contamination and leaks.

Use Ice Machine Water Filters For More Than Just IceAnother option is to install one filter for your entire restaurant’s water supply.  Again, I find Cuno’s dual port manifold system to be the best around, especially since one filter and a scale inhibitor can filter 54,000 gallons of water.  This single filter can service all of your beverage and ice machine plus glass filler needs, and you can even bypass the scale inhibitor for soft drinks, which is required by big distributors like Coke and Pepsi.

You can also get a glass filler kit that comes with a T&S glass filler and a Cuno ice machine water filter.  No matter what, make sure you’re serving quality water to your customers.  Not only will they appreciate it, it’s also one more way you can make your restaurant stand out amongst your competition.

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Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

More than likely, your restaurant has several sinks that serve many purposes in the back of the house, in server stations, and behind the bar.  Having the right kind of sinks in the right places is important not only to accomplish many various tasks, from glass and hand washing to stock pot and flatware cleaning, it’s also a vital part of your food safety program, and something that health inspectors will focus on.

First, let’s get the basics out of the way.  Most of you probably already know this stuff because you have to set up your sinks properly to pass inspection.  But if you’re thinking about starting a brand new restaurant, the following info will be very helpful.

For the rest of you, skip past this and read some additional, VERY IMPORTANT information, unless you’re looking for one of the sinks or faucets listed below.  Click the link if this is the case.

Types of Sinks:

Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

Hand Sink

  • Hand Sinks: these are pretty standard sinks for washing your hands.  Keep the dishes out.
  • Kitchen Sinks: choose from 1, 2, 3, or 4 compartment kitchen sinks for rinsing and washing dishes.  An HACCP program requires a 3 compartment sink for the proper sanitization of dishes.  Review the procedure here.  If you want to wash and fill stock pots and other big cookware items, get a big sized compartment sink.
  • Bar Sinks: 3 compartment bar sinks are designed for glass washing behind the bar.
  • With all these sinks, make sure you buy NSF approved only! NSF sinks have features that prevent the buildup of grime and bacteria, like welded drainboards and sealed seams that eliminate spaces.

Types of Faucets:

Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

Deck Mount Faucet

  • Deck Mount Faucets: these faucets mount directly onto the sink.  Make sure you measure the hole centers, or the distance between the center of the two holes where the faucet will mount on your sink, before ordering.
  • Wall Mount Faucets: these faucets mount from the wall and come through the backsplash.  Wall mount faucets are by far the most common type in restaurants.
  • Pot Filler Assemblies: these are a specialized wall mount faucet with a hose or extended, swiveling spout that allows you to easily fill big stock pots.
  • Pre-Rinse Assemblies: these assemblies are designed to help staff quickly rinse dirty cookware and tableware before it goes into your dish machine.

It’s always going to be easier to install the type of faucet that your sinks and kitchen’s plumbing are set up for.  If the sink in question has holes for a deck mount faucet and your pipes come vertically out of the floor, use a deck mount.  If you have plumbing coming horizontally out of the wall, by all means use a wall mount faucet.

If you skipped down, start here.

Leaky faucets can waste thousands of gallons of water every year! That costs your restaurant money, especially if it’s the hot water that’s leaking.  Over time, the washers in a stem assembly become worn, which means they don’t form a perfect seal when the handle is turned off.  This allows water to leak out even though the faucet is turned off.  These washers are less than $5, and they can save you hundreds of dollars in utility costs over the course of a year.

Caring For Restaurant Sinks and Faucets

Commercial sinks and faucets are made from stainless steel.  Stainless steel is a great material because it’s durable and rust resistant, but a couple simple maintenance techniques can extend the life cycle of any sink or faucet.

Never use abrasive pads or detergents.  Steel isn’t stainless or rust resistant.  There is actually a thin film of chromium and/or nickel that covers the steel and gives it it’s shine and prevents rust from forming.  When you use an abrasive pad or detergent to clean stainless steel, this thin film becomes scored and develops holes, which allows rust to move in.

Wipe sinks and faucets down daily.  Moisture is rust’s best friend, and the sinks and faucets in your kitchen are necessarily wet all day.  When you clean out your sinks at the end of the day, however, make sure you wipe them down with a soft rag.  This prevents moisture and rust from working together overnight to tarnish and rust your sinks and faucets.

Use a Garbage Disposer

Restaurant Sinks and Faucets: Some Useful Tips

Garbage Disposer

In kitchen sinks that collect food waste from washing cookware and tableware, installing a garbage disposer is important.  Not only does it increase your kitchen’s efficiency since you don’t have to clean out and dispose of food waste separately, a garbage disposer also makes your restaurant green.  That’s because you keep food waste out of landfills and conserve water by reducing sink cleaning time.  Sending food waste down the drain also keeps it out of trash cans and dumpsters in your kitchen, where it decomposes quickly, breeding bacteria and nasty smells.

Restaurant sinks are easy to forget about.  It’s one of those things you have to worry about when you first open a restaurant, and don’t really think about afterwards.  But properly maintaining your sinks and faucets, repairing them quickly when they leak, and equipping them properly with things like pot fillers and garbage disposers, not only makes your operation more efficient, it can translate into significant savings later on.

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Are Serving Utensils Going To Get You In Trouble With The Health Inspector?

You have 4 options for storing “in-use” dispensing utensils…the requirement is in Section 3-306 of the Colorado Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations:

  1. Stored in the food with the dispensing utensil handle extended out of the food
  2. Stored clean and dry
  3. Stored in potable running water as in a running water dipper well
  4. Stored at temperatures of 135 F and above, or 41 F and below
Are Serving Utensils Going To Get You In Trouble With The Health Inspector?

This photo depicts a proper practice, using option #1. This what your inspector likes to see.

Health inspectors see some disgusting practices, such as:

  • Chefs knives stored with their blades in cracks between equipment.  These cracks are often lined with grease and old food residue.
  • Knives stored on wall-mounted magnetic strips, but the blades are soiled or the knife rack itself is encrusted with grease, crumbs and residue.
  • Dispensing utensils stored in a bucket of standing room temperature water, with lots of floating food debris.

Think about that from your customers perspective…would you want your food prepared with those utensils?  Neither would I!

Besides storing in-use utensils properly, be sure the blades and handles are in good condition.   I was with a customer recently and noticed a grill spatula with a sizable sliver of metal missing from the spatula blade. I can only hope it ended up on the floor or in the trash, and not in food!

Examine the food contact surfaces of your utensils and see if any of the following are present:

  1. Chipped or ragged edges of metal spatulas.
  2. Cracks or breaks in plastic ice scoops.
  3. Splinters or chips on wooden knife handles.
  4. Wooden cutting boards with deep grooves and potential loose wood debris.
  5. Fraying edges of plastic spatulas.

Those surfaces are not “easily cleanable” and they pose a real potential for material to end up in the food. How do you spell LAWSUIT?  Make it part of your management walk-thru to watch for these problems and train your staff to do the same.

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Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

Casters make life in your restaurant’s kitchen a whole lot easier.  They allow you to roll heavy equipment around for cleaning.  They make your mop buckets mobile and power hand carts and loaded shelving in your walk-in and storage areas.  They even let you roll the trash out quickly.  The lowly caster serves many purposes, but what many restaurateurs don’t realize is how easy they are to replace, and, most importantly, how much money you can save by buying casters for new equipment separately.

Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

Most heavy equipment will take a heavy duty plate caster, but some may take a threaded stem caster instead

Let’s start with new restaurant equipment and shelving.  Any time you buy a new piece of heavy restaurant equipment like a gas range, a fryer, or a reach in refrigerator or freezer, the manufacturer will want you to buy an accompanying caster set.  Casters on this heavy equipment is a great idea because it makes cleaning your kitchen much easier.  An even better idea is to buy an after-market caster set separately, with the same weight capacities and heavy duty construction, at a fraction of what the equipment manufacturer wants to charge you.  Most heavy restaurant equipment will take a plate caster or a threaded stem caster.

Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

An expanding stem caster fits into the round or square hole of a shelving post and expands so that it fits tight inside the hole.

The wire shelving you use in walk-ins and for storage are much easier to handle if you mount them on casters.  That way, shelving can be moved for cleaning, and the extra height will help you meet the minimum 6” space between the bottom shelf and the floor required by the health inspector.  Shelving usually takes an expanding stem caster.  And while we are on the subject of shelving, if you are buying some for your walk-in, make sure you get the epoxy coated kind!  The moist environment in a walk-in causes non-coated shelving to rust very quickly, which not only looks bad, it means you’ll be buying more shelving within a few years.

Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

Most carts, dollies, and mop buckets take a caster like this one, but some take a small plate caster

Hand carts, dollies, and mop buckets also have casters.  Unlike restaurant equipment, these items usually come already mounted with their casters, so buying them separately is not an option.  However, those casters often break or wear out long before the item is no longer useful.  Replacements are often hard to find unless you know where to look.  These casters are often very easy to replace, getting a replacement caster can extend the life of your carts, dollies, and mop buckets.

So the next time you need some new equipment casters or need to replace some old ones, remember that you have options, and if you look around, you can save some significant dough by buying smart.

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HACCP Principle 3: Set Critical Limits

HACCP Principle 3: Set Critical LimitsEvery CCP you identified by grouping menu items into processes now must have a critical limit set for it in order to become an official part of your HACCP program.  The FDA’s Food Code and your local Board of Health have established time and temperature specifications for every type of food you serve in your restaurant.  Research the time and temperature requirements at each CCP for each food type in every menu item you serve in your restaurant.

The most important critical limits usually involve keeping food out of the danger zone as much as possible.  The “danger zone” is generally 42 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, although this upper limit will vary depending on what you’re cooking.  The space between 42 and 135 is called the danger zone because that temperature range is ideal for bacterial and pathogen growth.  The less time food spends in the danger zone, the less likely it is to develop contamination.

It’s also important to remember that time plays an important part when setting critical temperature limits.  For example, the critical cooking temperature for a chicken breast in a Process 2 or 3 (see Principle 2) menu item is 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.  For Process 3 menu items, where food is cooled after being cooked, it is not enough to set a critical limit for cooling at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.  The food must reach 41 degrees within 6 hours, and must reach 71 degrees by the end of the first 2 hours.  Consult with your local Board of Health or the FDA’s Food Code for more information.

Time can also take the place of a temperature control, and in some cases it might make sense to do so.  For instance, if you cook food using Process 2 and set your critical limit for temperature to be reached during cooking and then serve the food right away, you do not need to set a critical limit for hot holding.  The same principle applies to some cold holding critical limits.  Consult with your local Board of Health to determine exact time specifications.

So now you have identified hazards, grouped your menu items into Processes, and set critical limits for each CCP in each Process.  You have gone a long way towards implementing an effective HACCP program.  Unfortunately, the first three principles were the easy part (relatively anyway!).  Now you have to monitor, establish corrective action procedures, verify monitoring and verification procedures, and establish a record keeping system.  These last 4 steps are designed to make sure the lofty standards you set in steps 1 – 3 are actually achieved.  It’s one thing to talk the HACCP talk.  Now you have to ensure your restaurant is walking the walk.

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