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Author Archive | Greg McGuire

How To Calibrate A Thermometer

How To Calibrate A ThermometerThink of a good thermometer as the crescent wrench of your food safety program.  Without it, you have no idea what the temperature of your food products are, either when you cook them or when you store them.  And that means you can’t tighten the bolts of your food safety program, locking out food borne illnesses and locking in food quality.

The problem with thermometers is that they lose their bearings over time and use.  If you’re using that thermometer to make sure food is staying out of the danger zone, and your thermometer is more than a couple degrees Fahrenheit off, you’re taking a risk your restaurant really can’t afford.  Luckily, calibrating a thermometer is easy and it should be done regularly in your restaurant.

You should re-calibrate your thermometer if:

  • You dropped it (especially if it’s a dial thermometer)
  • Before you use it for the first time
  • If you use the same thermometer to measure very cold and very hot temperatures
  • Daily or weekly if you use the same thermometer multiple times

Most health inspectors will recommend daily recalibration if you are checking many temperatures throughout the day (and hopefully, for the sake of your food safety program, you are!).

There are two methods for calibrating thermometers:

Ice point.  Fill an insulated glass with crushed ice and then add a little water.  Let it sit for at least five minutes and then insert the sensing part of the thermometer into the cup.  Make sure the sensor is in the middle of the glass and at least an inch from the sides, bottom, and top of the glass.  Hold it there for 30 seconds or until the dial stops moving or the digital thermometer beeps.  Your thermometer should be reading 32 degrees Fahrenheit after 30 seconds.  If it’s not, it needs to be recalibrated.  The ice point method is the most accurate way to calibrate a thermometer.

Boiling point.  Boil at least six inches of water.  Once the water has reached a rolling boil, stick the sensor part of the thermometer into the middle of the water, taking care to keep it at least two inches from the sides, top, and bottom.  After 30 seconds, the thermometer should read 212 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re at 1,000 feet or less of elevation.  See below if you are at a higher altitude.  If it doesn’t read 212, your thermometer needs to be recalibrated.

Changes in boiling point temperature by elevation:

  • Sea Level: 212 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 1,000 feet: 210 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 2,000 feet: 208 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 3,000 feet: 206.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 4,000 feet: 204.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 5,000 feet: 202.75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 8,000 feet: 197.5 degrees Fahrenheit

How To Calibrate A ThermometerHow To Calibrate A Thermometer

Dial thermometers have a little screw or nut that adjusts the dial to the correct temperature.  Simply turn the adjuster until the dial reads the correct temperature according to the method you’re using to calibrate.

Digital thermometers have a reset button.  Simply push that button when you’re at the temperature point and your thermometer is ready to go.

If you have employees who regularly take temperature readings, train them on how to calibrate thermometers correctly.  Of course, simply showing an employee how to calibrate a thermometer isn’t enough to ensure calibration is happening on a regular schedule and to the correct specifications.  You must trust but verify.  The easiest way to do this  is to schedule a time for all employees to calibrate their thermometers.  That way you can ensure calibration is done regularly and accurately.

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How To Battle The Evil Reservation No-Show

How To Battle The Evil Reservation No ShowReservation no-shows are a frustrating experience for any restaurant.  On an especially busy night like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day, they can really cost your restaurant some serious money.  Not only do you have to depend on walk-in traffic to fill those seats, but there’s a good chance you turned down other customers looking for a reservation leading up to that high-traffic day.

So how do you fight the evil no-show?

Traditionally, restaurants don’t require a reservation confirmation using a credit card, especially for non-holidays.  In recent years that’s been changing, with many restaurants requiring a credit card for the big days like New Year’s.  Some have even begun holding a credit card for regular weekend nights, especially in locations where foot traffic is very light and the restaurant is heavily dependent upon reservations.

First, the 101 on credit card reservations.

Two schools of thought dominate the discussion over credit card reservations.  The first maintains that anything making it harder for your customer to enjoy a meal in your restaurant, like the inconvenience of giving out your credit card and being on the hook for a fee just to make a reservation, is just plain wrong.  The second school says that taking a credit card protects you from losing business, especially on busy nights, and that many other types of businesses like airlines and hotels require a credit card to secure a reservation, so why not restaurants?
How To Battle The Evil Reservation No Show
Both approaches have a point.  Most restaurants probably shouldn’t sweat a cancellation on a weeknight, and therefore there’s no need to make your customer go through the hoopla of putting a credit card down.  Weekends are (hopefully!) a different story, but for most restaurants higher walk-in rates offsets cancellations, so unless you have the uncommon good fortune of owning a place that is always packed to the gills with reservations every weekend, taking a credit card probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The big dining days should be a different story altogether.  If you’re turning down reservations for New Year’s or Valentine’s, then you should be securing the reservations you do have, because people usually don’t walk in on those days, they get a reservation first.

OK, 101 – Check.  What if there’s a better way than taking a credit card?

Ah ha – now we’re talking.  I don’t know about you, but anytime I have to pull out my credit card I have to pause and think about it.  There’s something mildly unpleasant about giving your credit card number to someone else, especially if all you want to do is take your wife out to dinner.  There’s got to be a better way to maximize the number of people who make a reservation versus those that actually show up.

Really, your reservation crowd is a great one to get to know.  That’s because these are people who are already sold on how great your restaurant is.  They want to eat in your establishment and they’ve made an appointment to do so.

So why not follow up with them?

Collect an email address and/or a telephone number and call them and/or email them 24 hours before their reservation to confirm.  The vast majority of no-shows simply had their plans change or decided to eat somewhere else and never let you know.  Taking the time to engage this customer not only shows how interested you are in their business, it allows you to make your reservation process more efficient and leaves fewer holes due to no-shows.How To Battle The Evil Reservation No Show

Naturally, some days, like New Year’s, are always going to be credit card days.  You just absolutely have to know who’s doing what on those days.  But for the rest of the year, requiring a credit card seems like too much, and relying on your customer 100% of the time seems like too little.  Engaging your customer, especially since they’ve already indicated they’re interested by calling for a reservation, is a great way to bridge that gap.

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Why Fast Food Lunch Is Good For Your Restaurant

Why Fast Food Lunch Is Good For Your RestaurantOne restaurant that has been doing just fine during the economic downturn is McDonald’s.  Their combination of convenience and affordability has made the golden arches the restaurant of choice in tough times.

As consumers become more and more health and value conscious, restaurants have an inherent advantage over fast food chains during the lunch hour.

The one element holding you back from expanding your lunch rush is time.  People just don’t have as much time during lunch as they once did, and in an on-the-go society, a leisurely lunch just doesn’t realistically fit into most people’s agenda.

Chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Houlihan’s have effectively maximized lunch traffic with a simple formula: value – time = more customers.  In other words, the more value you offer in the shortest amount of time, the more lunchtime customers you’re going to see.

Both chains offer “speed lunch” promotions, where the customer’s meal is guaranteed on the table in 15 minutes or it’s free.  Servers place a timer on the table when the order is taken and after that, it’s off to the races.

Houlihan’s has made landing lunch on the table in less than 15 minutes and turning the table in 30-45 minutes an exact science, and any restaurant can benefit from their example.  Customers appreciate your restaurant accommodating their tight schedule and still delivering a quality product.

Here are some strategies to help you implement your own speed lunch promotion:

Cut down the menu.  You don’t want your kitchen staff prepping and cooking a variety of menu items when they’re on such a tight timeline.  Stick to your core offerings that have good margins (because you might be giving away a free one!) and are relatively easy to prepare.

Develop benchmarks for meal prep and service.  Houlihan’s requires that servers enter orders in 2 minutes or less after they are taken to allow the kitchen as much time as possible.  Servers are then given 2 minutes to serve the meal after it’s ready.  No matter how much time your speed lunch allows, make sure you have benchmarks so that you and your staff know when you start getting into the dangerous free meal zone.

Leverage POS technology.  More than likely you have already invested in a POS (Point Of Sale) computer terminal system that allows orders from the front of the house to be entered electronically.  A POS system is vital to the success of a speed lunch promo because it greatly increases the efficiency of transferring orders from servers to the back of the house.

If you already have a POS system, consider adding more terminals to reduce lines and distance so that servers can meet their order entry deadline.  If you don’t have a POS system, taking on a speed lunch promotion is going to be very interesting.  Investing in one not only helps the success of your speed lunch promo, it also improves efficiency across your restaurant.

Leverage restaurant equipment.  Before launching a speed lunch promotion, carefully analyze the cook times of the items you’re going to offer and make sure your staff can consistently produce under a given time limit.  Quick and efficient cooking equipment like steamers, broilers, and microwaves should be used whenever possible to make sure prep times stay down.  Food prep equipment like food processors and vegetable cutters are great ways to increase your kitchen staff’s efficiency.

Continue to analyze preparation and cooking techniques and look for ways to improve efficiency.

Make sure your staff is ready.  You may want to schedule extra staff for speed lunch promo days, especially when you first start out.  Evaluate staff performance and put teams together that operate well under the deadline pressure.  Keep top performing teams together so that familiarity breeds added efficiency.

A speed lunch promo is a great way to create lunch crowds in your restaurant.  And the challenge for you and your staff to perform can make it an exercise in teamwork that can have many unintentional benefits for your business, such as finding ways to increase efficiency and teamwork.

These new findings can be applied to the rest of your business easily, and while your dinner rush might have a little more time, the lessons you learned turning tables at lunch might help you make an extra buck at night too.

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Mmmmmmm… Self Serve Draft Beer

Mmmmmmm... Self Serve Draft BeerIf Homer Simpson had his own bar (or took over Moe’s), then the Draft Tables made by Ellickson USA would be the first thing he bought.

The Draft Table is an all-in-one beer tapping system built into a circular table that allows customers to pour their own beer whenever they want – directly from taps in the middle of the table!  The Draft Table is controlled by a wireless connection and starts out as “closed.”  Once a server checks IDs and collects credit cards they can open the table via a wireless controller.  The taps at the table are now activated for two beers a person, and the fun begins.  Staff can re-open the table two more times after the two beer limit has been reached, giving servers a chance to check on the table.  Any beers under the limit are not charged, but who wouldn’t want to keep pouring their own beers???

Even better, Ellickson has developed “i-button technology,” which allows customers to sign up for a small chunk of hardware that attaches to a keychain and can activate taps automatically.  The two beer limit still applies.

Ellickson is an Irish company that has only recently landed on this side of the Atlantic.  The concept of self-serve beer is still pretty new in the U.S. but it’s starting to catch on – and 90% of the state liquor boards out there have approved the Draft Table for use.

The Draft Table gives customers a unique experience while improving the efficiency of a busy bar.  If your restaurant or bar caters to discerning beer drinkers then this innovative technology makes a lot of sense.  VisitEllickson’s website for more information!

Mmmmmmm... Self Serve Draft Beer

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Food Service Product Watch: 10 Products For Your Restaurant

Food Service Product Watch: 10 Products For Your Restaurant

Every restaurant kitchen is full of tools of the trade, from heavy duty gas ranges to the lowliest spatula, it takes a lot of equipment to serve your customers right – day in and day out.  Keeping track of all the equipment and products that can help make your operation run more smoothly could be a full time job in itself, and I know you don’t have the time for another full time job.

These Back Burner posts cover some products that might be of use in your commercial kitchen.  Feel free to browse through and see if you find something you like:

  1. Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals - These Crocs are designed specifically for the food service industry and have proven to be a hit with the chefs and waitstaff that have tried them.
  2. Two Levels Of Oven Mitt – There’s your standard, garden variety oven mitt and then there’s Tucker, which takes the commercial oven mitt to a whole new level of safety and convenience.  Learn the difference in this post.
  3. Floor Matting - If your kitchen doesn’t have floor matting, or if you need to replace the worn stuff you’ve got now, this post will help you understand why you need new matting for the sake of safety and which type will work best.
  4. The Poseidon: The New God Of Digital Portion Scales - If you haven’t heard about The Poseidon digital portion scale from Edlund, you’ve been missing out on one of the hottest new products in food service.
  5. How Ice Machine Water Filters Can Help With More Than Just Ice - If you’re not filtering the water coming out of your glass filler, you should be.  Luckily, you can easily add a water filter just like the one you use for your ice machine to produce clean, fresh, great tasting water for your customers.
  6. Restaurant Equipment Casters: Buy Smart – If you need to replace the casters on your restaurant equipment, or if you need to add casters to new equipment, read this post first to make sure you don’t pay too much and that you get the right casters the first time.
  7. The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety? – The EndoTherm is a thermometer inside a liquid gel that mimics food product in your walk-in.  This allows you to check the actual temperature of your product rather than the ambient air temperature in the walk-in giving you a more accurate sense of food temperatures.
  8. Lincoln Smallwares: A Little Cookware For Everyone – Lincoln has four lines of cookware and each one is designed for a different chef.  No matter what, you’re going to find the line that’s right for you.
  9. Hoshizaki Ice Machines: The Preferred Choice – Hoshi ice machines are a great choice if you’re in the market for ice machines.  Learn more about their products here.
  10. Krowne Underbar Equipment – You already know about Krowne’s great restaurant plumbing, but if you haven’t seen their modular underbar equipment, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

BONUS PRODUCT: Handle Bulk Vegetable Oil The Smart Spout Way – The Smart Spout makes pouring bulk vegetable oil safer and easier.  It’s one of those simple product innovations that really makes you wonder why you didin’t have one before this.

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17 Energy Efficiency And Going Green Tips

17 Energy Efficiency And Going Green TipsImproving your restaurant’s energy efficiency and sustainability practices has two rewards: reduced costs and great PR opportunities.  Studies have shown that consumers are increasingly aware of “green” issues and that they care about them, even in a down economy.  That means you can connect with your customers and build brand loyalty while streamlining your operation at the same time.  These articles will help you take advantage of green opportunities and shed some light on what’s coming down the pike in the near future:

1.  Stop Giving Waste Fryer Oil Away! – More than likely someone is recycling your waste fryer oil for you.  Hopefully you’re not paying for that service.  Soon, though, you’ll want to keep that oil to yourself and generate your own electricity.  Learn why in this post.

2.  Chefs Make Their Own Honey – From vegetables to honey, chefs are making a lot of ingredients themselves these days, and saving a lot of food miles in the process.

3.  How Chipotle Went Platinum- A Chipotle franchise in Gurnee Mills, IL recently won Platinum energy efficiency from LEED.  Learn more about the program in this post.

4.  Have You Joined The NRA’s Conserve Initiative?- The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Initiative is and effort to bring more of the food service industry into the energy efficiency fold.  Learn more in this post.

5.  Can We Bring Bluefin Tuna Back From The Brink? – The bluefin has been fished nearly to extinction, but an Australian fisherman has figured out how to bring them back from the brink.  Learn more in this post.

6.  Is Your Kitchen Ventilation Sucking Up Money? – That hood in your kitchen uses A LOT of energy.  Learn how to make sure it’s running as efficiently as possible in this post.

7.  The Conflict Between Local Food And Local Government – “Urban farming,” the increasingly popular practice of planting vegetables in vacant lots and rooftops in urban environments, sometimes comes into conflict with municipal ordinances.  Learn how that conflict is shaping up in one California town.

10 More Energy Efficiency Tips Here

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Product Watch: Fagor Commercial Dishwashers

Fagor commercial dishwashers are a great choice for any restaurant or commercial kitchen.  These dish machines are affordable, energy efficient, and very durable.  Fagor has always been known internationally for their quality products and it’s only recently that they’ve made a name for themselves in the U.S.

When selecting the right Fagor dish machine for your business, make sure you choose the right sized unit for the job.  Undercounter units can handle up to 35 racks per hour.  Door type units can process between 35 and 60 racks per hour.  And the Fagor single compartment conveyor dish machine can wash up to 150 racks in a single hour.

When calculating how many racks you need to wash per hour, consider the following factors:

  • About 35 racks of dishes are produced for every 100 meals served
  • Your dish machine should be able to easily handle peak demand volume like Valentine’s Day dinner rush
  • Dish machines have a 5 – 10 year lifespan, so add 10% – 20% capacity for future growth

Once you have an accurate estimate of your dishload, choose a Fagor unit that works best for your situation:Product Watch: Fagor Commercial Dishwashers

Undercounter Dishwashers – These undercounter units feature a Hot Water Assurance booster heater that guarantees NSF required 180 degree water temperature.  Add in Energy Star rated efficiency, with less than one gallon of water used per rack, and rugged stainless steel construction, and you’ve got a high performance unit that’s both efficient and effective.

Door Type and Conveyor Dishwashers – These high volume dishwashers can handle all the needs of a commercial kitchen or restaurant without sacrificing the efficiency of other Fagor models.  Stainless steel construction, dual powerful water pumps, and a heat booster guaranteed to achieve 180 degrees make these units a quality choice in commercial dishwashing.

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Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Here are some more tips on how to make sure your restaurant equipment is performing at maximum efficiency.

Perform regular equipment maintenance. Simple parts on cooking and refrigeration equipment break down or degrade over time from constant use, reducing energy efficiency and equipment performance.

Usually these parts are so easy to replace you can do it yourself:

 

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Different refrigeration gasket styles

Door gaskets. The constant opening and closing of oven, steamer, and refrigerator or freezer doors leads to wear and tear on the gasket that helps seal in heat or cold.

Replace these gaskets as they become worn to reduce leaks.

Thermostats. The thermostat on your freezer, refrigerator, or fryer can lose its calibration or wear out, meaning the machine isn’t operating at optimal temperature.

Check thermostats regularly with a commercial thermometer and recalibrate or replace them as needed.

Check pilot lights and clean burners. Pilot lights are convenient but also represent a constant use of energy in your kitchen.  Make sure they aren’t using more energy than needed by checking them regularly.

If the flame is taller than a couple inches or yellow in color, adjust the flame until it’s small and blue.  Also clean oven and range burners regularly and replace burners that have worn out to maximize their efficiency.

Train kitchen staff. Implementing the tips above sounds good in theory, but unless you train your staff to think about energy efficiency, these strategies will remain just a theory.

Set idle time and shut down procedures for all your equipment to minimize their energy use.  Train head staff to check for bad door gaskets and thermostats.  Make sure full racks of dishes are going through the dishwasher instead of half full or mostly empty ones.

Most importantly, get your staff to understand why energy savings are important, and incentivize them to act efficiently.

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)Buy Energy Star rated restaurant equipment. Replace old equipment in your kitchen as quickly as possible.  When shopping for new equipment, look for Energy Star ratings.  Most restaurant equipment has annual energy usage statistics.  Use this information to compare units and purchase the most efficient one.

No matter what, new equipment is going to be more efficient and perform better than old equipment.  Often the annual energy savings from new equipment will recoup the cost of purchasing it within a few years.

Also check for rebates from your local, state, or federal government for purchasing energy efficient equipment.

Carefully calculate capacity. One of the most common mistakes restaurant or commercial kitchen managers make when purchasing new equipment is buying too big.

Ice machines, refrigerators or freezers, and dishwashers are big energy users and are the most common units where this mistake is made.  Of course, buying too small is just as bad, and that’s why it’s important to accurately calculate your production needs.

Start by analyzing peak demand.  Once you know how many people or how many meals you serve per hour at peak demand times, you can better analyze what size equipment you need.

However, you should also take into account future growth.

Most restaurant equipment, if properly maintained, should last 5 – 10 years.  In that time your business should grow as well, meaning peak demand 5 years from now is going to be more than peak demand right now.

In general, overestimate equipment capacity by 10% – 20% to make sure it can meet your needs over the entire lifetime of the unit.

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Laudisio’s Restaurant: Cibo, Vino, Amici!

Laudisios Restaurant: Cibo, Vino, Amici!“Cibo, Vino, Amici” (Food, Wine, Friends) is the motto Antonio Laudisio has followed faithfully over the course of 20-plus years in the food service industry.  His landmark restaurant, Laudisio’s, has long satisfied the hunger, thirst, and loneliness of Boulder locals and visitors alike with authentic Italian cuisine, fine wines, and an atmosphere that is at once inviting and comfortable.

Laudisio’s menu includes applewood-fired pizzas baked in onsite wood burning ovens, seasonal offerings sourced locally whenever possible, and a delectable wine and dessert list, making for a delicious array that could put a warm smile on the face of even the most strident critic.

“Italian cooking is ingredient centric,” he says.  “I like to run a proletariat kitchen, where you let the ingredients speak for themselves and the cook takes his ego out of it.”

Food and wine may make up two thirds of the words in the Laudisio motto, but anyone who has spent time with Antonio knows that friendship and community come first in his book.  “The challenge of all business is how we treat our employees and the community.  We’ve been living in a CEO-take-all culture that is subject to the tyranny of the cash register.  I think it’s more important to close the circle with the community.”

Laudisio’s commitment to sourcing locally means he serves the freshest ingredients possible while also supporting local business and agriculture.  The restaurant is also committed to an environmentally sustainable business model that is progressive even for a Boulder restaurant: waste is composted or recycled; energy efficient dishwashing units, compostable to-go containers, waterless urinals, and natural lighting all reduce the operation’s energy use.

But perhaps his biggest contribution to the community is the gathering space at the restaurant.  Long famous for its extended Happy Hour and extremely friendly staff, Laudisio’s is a place where the people of Boulder can congregate and enjoy the pleasure of their mutual company.

“Especially during tough times, it’s important to have a refuge, and I think it’s important to nurture our customers,” says Antonio.  His patrons know exactly what he’s talking about.

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Food Safety Tips: Vacuum Breakers & Backflow Valves

Vacuum breakers and backflow valves are an easy thing to overlook in your restaurant’s kitchen.  They are relatively easy to install, and since health inspectors are going to require them, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take the time to make sure you have some of these simple plumbing parts installed correctly in the right places in your establishment.

First things first: what the heck is a vacuum breaker and a backflow valve?  Both prevent potentially contaminated water from flowing back up a hose, faucet, pre-rinse, or toilet fixture and into the potable water system in your restaurant.  Waste and sewage water is rich with microorganisms that can quickly infect an entire water supply, and that’s why these plumbing valves are so important.

Food Safety Tips: Vacuum Breakers & Backflow Valves

Vacuum Breaker

Vacuum breakers a rubber diaphragm inside this valve opens when water goes out but seals shut when a faucet is turned off, which prevents a vacuum inside the line to suck contaminated water back up into the plumbing system.  Over time this rubber diaphragm wears out and loses its seal.  Fortunately this is easy to replace, saving you the expense of ordering a whole new vacuum breaker.

Check with your local health department for a complete list of places where a vacuum breaker is required.  The most common fixtures are mop bucket sinks, pot filler assemblies, commercial dishwasher lines, pre-rinse assemblies (in addition to a continuous pressure backflow valve), and toilets and urinals.

Food Safety Tips: Vacuum Breakers & Backflow Valves

Backflow Preventer

Backflow valves – these metal valves have a spring loaded ball inside that is forced open when water pressure flows out of the line.  When a faucet or pre-rinse is shut off, the ball seals shut, preventing any contaminated water from flowing back up the line.  A backflow valve is most commonly seen on pre-rinse assemblies and faucets with a hose attachment.  Note that most pre-rinses should also have a vacuum breaker.

These simple plumbing parts can play a big role when it comes to passing a health inspection, so make sure your kitchen is up to code.  Even more importantly, these valves prevent contaminants from getting into your water supply, which could cause a huge headache down the road.  An ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold when it comes to vacuum breakers and backflow valves.

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