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Is Your Restaurant Exhaust System Sucking Up Money?

Is Your Restaurant Exhaust System Sucking Up Money?The exhaust system in your kitchen is one of those essential pieces of equipment that you must have in order to operate.  And if your hood is like the ones in most restaurants, it has two settings: “on” and “off.”  When your line is operating at full tilt during the dinner rush, the “on” setting is probably perfect, quickly sending heat and fumes straight from your cooking equipment outside.  But what about afternoons or during light lunches?  You probably still have the ventilation on but your equipment is not creating nearly as much exhaust.

I don’t have to tell you how much energy that hood exhaust in your kitchen is using.  Here’s a few tips on making sure your restaurant exhaust system is running as efficiently as possible:

Get the system rebalanced. Your exhaust system needs some regular maintenance to run at optimal levels.  If too much smoke is building up in your kitchen, or if the system seems like it’s on overdrive all the time, a rebalancing by a trained technician is in order.  A rebalance ensures the system is keeping the kitchen safe but not sucking up too much energy by working too hard.

Maximize suction. If you’re paying to run your kitchen ventilation system, it might as well be pulling as much of the stuff you don’t want in your kitchen as possible.  To maximize smoke and heat capture, make sure your cooking equipment is pushed all the way up against the wall underneath the hood.  This prevents clean air from getting sucked up from behind the equipment and puts the maximum amount of hood over your line.  And if your hood doesn’t have side panels, you can install them easily and cheaply.  Side panels help trap smoke and fumes, making the exhaust system more efficient.

Install a demand ventilation control. If you really want to save some money on kitchen ventilation then a demand control is for you.  It senses the cooking volume in your kitchen and adjusts fan speed accordingly.  A ventilation control can reduce kitchen exhaust energy usage by 30% – 50% and can be either ordered with a new exhaust system or installed on an older unit.Is Your Restaurant Exhaust System Sucking Up Money?

Clean and maintain hood filters. The hood filters are the metal squares in the exhaust opening of your restaurant’s exhaust system that catch the grease in air as it gets sucked out.  The hood filter plays an important role, since grease buildup can become a dangerous fire risk.  As time goes on hood filters become saturated with grease and should be cleaned.  The dirtier the filter, the harder your exhaust has to work to suck air through them.  Also make sure they are installed correctly (with the baffles, or ridges, in the vertical position) and that there are no gaps between them.  Replace damaged filters immediately.  Click here for a complete guide to hood filters.

If you happen to be designing a new kitchen, you should account for a few factors in order to maximize ventilation efficiency:

Group heavy cooking equipment together. Whatever you’re going to be cooking with the most should all be right next to each other underneath the hood.  If you have a single heavy cooking appliance, like a charbroiler, and other lighter cooking equipment, it’s a good idea to separate the heavy piece from the lighter pieces and give it a dedicated high volume exhaust.  This allows you to run the lighter equipment under a hood that doesn’t have to be on full blast all the time.

Create a big overhang. While 4 feet is the industry standard, 5 or 6 feet of hood will capture more smoke and allow you to run your restaurant exhaust system more efficiently.

Making the kitchen ventilation system energy efficient not only saves you money, it ensures that the exhaust is capturing the maximum amount of smoke and fumes and getting them out of your kitchen.

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Restaurant Grease Management: How Traps Will Save Your Butt

Restaurant Grease Management: How Traps Will Save Your ButtGrease is an inevitable byproduct of your restaurant’s kitchen.  Unfortunately, grease doesn’t disappear when it gets washed down the drain.  Instead, it tends to build up and stick to the sides of pipes and drainages, just like cholesterol in diner’s arteries.

And just like cholesterol, that buildup over time can cause some serious problems.  Best case scenario, your kitchen smells like a rotting cesspool.  Worst case, you floor drains start spouting the soupy mix that can only be created when the drains of your dishwasher, pot filler sink, and pre-rinse sink combine.

The resulting food safety nightmare would make any health inspector shudder.  The damage is usually measured in the thousands of dollars.  You definitely don’t want that to happen in your restaurant.

Local codes usually require some sort of grease management system for commercial kitchens.  Otherwise cities end up with thousands of dollars worth of damage to municipal water lines.  But just because someone stuck a grease trap in the cellar 20 years ago doesn’t mean your restaurant is safe from the doomsday scenarios I lined out above.

Effective grease management means committing to an ongoing process that is usually unpleasant and never in the cleanest parts of your kitchen.  Some tips to make sure grease waste isn’t creating problems in your restaurant:

Evaluate your grease output.  Some restaurants produce more grease than others, plain and simple.  If you already have a grease trap system, check it once a week for a month and see how quickly grease builds up to the point where a cleaning is needed.  If you don’t have a grease trap, install one right away, then check it regularly to see how often it’s going to need to be cleaned.

Grease traps work by using a series of baffles to prevent grease from flowing from one end of the system to the other.  Since grease is lighter than water, it collects at the top of the trap.  Sooner or later so much grease will collect that it starts to flow over the top of the baffles, and the trap ceases to trap grease.  You want to clean your system well before this happens.

Use this information to formulate a regular cleaning schedule.  You might also want to rotate the poor sucker who gets this thankless task.  You may want to install smaller undersink traps on the biggest grease producing drains in your kitchen that are more accessible than the main trap, which makes cleaning easier and reduces the likelihood of plumbing system damage.

Many restaurants use a professional service company to clean and care for their main grease trap.  This can get expensive, but depending on the size of your establishment and the amount of grease you produce, it could be a worthwhile investment.  Some services even convert the grease they recover from your trap into biodiesel, adding a renewable element to the process.  It’s probably still a good idea to use undersink traps to supplement your main system even if you use a cleaning service, since this will reduce the frequency of their visits.

In general grease traps are pretty indestructible, especially if you clean them regularly, but eventually they will need to be replaced.  Look for damage to the baffles in the trap and cracks or excessive gunk buildup in the inflow and outflow pipes.  Canplas grease traps are one of the best in the business and my personal recommendation if you’re in the market for a new one.

The most effective way to manage grease in any commercial kitchen is to be proactive about it.  Don’t wait to clean traps and don’t assume the problem will take care of itself.  Otherwise your restaurant might look like this:

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Commercial Gas Range Buying Guide

Commercial Gas Range Buying Guide

A good gas range is the center and the soul of a restaurant or commercial kitchen, and every kitchen is different.  Choosing the best unit to suit your specific needs can be a challenge, but if you keep a couple things in mind buying the range you need shouldn’t be hard.

BTUs and Gas Type

Commercial ranges vary in the heat output they produce, which is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units).  Depending on the cooking application and energy usage concerns, you may want to purchase a unit with a higher or lower BTU rating.

Higher BTU ranges are going to heat things faster, but at a higher rate of energy consumption.  A higher BTU rating also means quicker heat recovery times

Lower BTU rates will heat things more slowly, but more efficiently.  Lower BTU ratings mean a slower heat recovery time

Most gas ranges are outfitted for natural gas.  Natural gas is the most common gas type and chances are you are hooked up to natural gas.  LP gas or liquid propane is the gas you get if your range is connected to a propane tank, usually for rural locations or portable operations.

griddle and Charbroiler Add-On Options

Griddles are ideal for cooking multiple foods at once.  The large, flat metal plate that makes up the griddle distributes heat evenly over the entire surface.  Heat can be controlled either manually or thermostatically.  A grease trough allows for easy cleaning.

Charbroilers allow you to broil poultry, seafood, and meat quickly and effectively.  Most restaurants and commercial kitchens purchase a separate charbroiler unit, but combination range and charbroiler units can be special ordered.

Necessary Accessories

Casters allow you to move your commercial gas range quickly and easily for cleaning or rearranging.  Manufacturers charge a ridiculous fee for casters that come with their restaurant cooking equipment.  Instead, buy your casters separately and save a bundle.

Gas hose connector kits allow you to connect your new restaurant range to your kitchen’s gas source, whether it’s natural or LP gas.  Make sure you check the diameter of your range’s connection before ordering.

Don’t Forget Your Altitude!

If your commercial kitchen or restaurant is above 2,000 feet in elevation, you may need to have the gas valves on your new range adjusted.  Make sure you tell the manufacturer or vendor you’re buying from if you are located above 2,000 feet.

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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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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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Star Manufacturing: Whatever You Need In Countertop Cooking Equipment

Star Manufacturing has been in the commercial cooking equipment business for a long time.  And their equipment has proven itself in the tough working conditions of commercial kitchens time and time again.  Star is probably best known for its countertop cooking equipment, and accessories like griddles, charbroilers, hot plates and hot dog cooking equipment…

Star Manufacturing: Whatever You Need In Countertop Cooking Equipment

Star hot dog cookers are some of the best in the business

Star Manufacturing: Whatever You Need In Countertop Cooking Equipment

Star charbroilers – radiant, lava rock, electric, and outdoor available

Star Manufacturing: Whatever You Need In Countertop Cooking Equipment

 

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Go Green, Save Money, Serve Better Produce

Go Green, Save Money, Serve Better ProduceAs the past few years have shown, produce can be a food safety liability for anyone in the food service industry. Easy spoilage also makes produce a very difficult item to manage on your inventory. On top of all that, produce takes a lot of time and labor to prep.

Yet fruits and vegetables are also a vital ingredient on any restaurant’s menu, and most of you out there have mastered the fine art of serving clean, healthy, fresh produce to your customers on a daily basis. Mastery of that art comes at a price, however. Chemical sanitization, cleaning, and spoilage all cost money and cut into your food margin.

Locally and organically produced produce don’t help your cause any either. Typically local and organic produce spoils faster even though it arrives fresher. And nobody wants their organic produce sanitized with chemicals after arriving through your back door.

There must be some kind of product that addresses all the issues you have dealing with fresh produce in your restaurant.

Well, I’m glad you asked.

The Saf-T-Wash by San Jamar addresses all three of your main food service sanitation concerns when it comes to produce: sanitation, freshness, and spoilage. How does it work? The Saf-T-Wash adds ozone to water and attaches directly to the faucet in your kitchen, allowing you to wash fresh produce and sanitize it at the same time while extending shelf life.

Ozone is a natural element that’s been used for years in the bottled water industry to kill pathogens during the bottling process. Ozone kills at least 99.99% of the major pathogens found in produce within two minutes of exposure, which is significantly more effective than a chlorine treatment. And ozone removes enzymes from fruits and vegetables that cause spoilage, improving shelf life after prep has been completed.

You also don’t have to use as much ozone treated water to clean produce during prep, saving you money on water. In general, treating your fruits and vegetables with ozone treated water is a more effective and efficient way to prep produce for serving. According to San Jamar, the money saved in water and labor savings plus reduced spoilage means the Saf-T-Wash pays for itself in 3 months.

Using the Saf-T-Wash also gives you a unique opportunity to market your restaurant as a green operation to your customers. Despite the economic downturn, studies still return consistent results when it comes to customer attitudes regarding green practices in food safety: consumers want more of it and they like restaurants that participate in green programs. If you’re serving organically grown produce washed with ozone treated water, you’re creating a great opportunity to add value to your restaurant brand in the eyes of your customer. And in an age of price wars and increasingly brutal competition, anything that sets you apart and adds value is something that might give you an extra edge over your competition.

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Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last Longer

Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last LongerThe fryer is one of the central cooking appliances in many restaurants and commercial kitchens.  And central to every commercial fryer is the shortening or oil in the vat.  Maintaining that oil is key to producing great-tasting product every time.  Oil maintenance is more involved than you might think, and if done properly, can add significant time to the productive life of your fryer oil and improve the taste of your product.

Fryer oil is an organic compound.  That means it breaks down naturally over time, just like any of the food product in your walk-in.  At over 300 degrees Fahrenheit, that degradation process is accelerated.  As if that weren’t enough, three things contribute to the even more rapid deterioration of fryer oil:

  • Oxidation – contact with air makes the oil “stale” over time, just like a bag of chips.
  • Hydrolysis – the presence of water in fryer oil is unavoidable when frying food product, but as water interacts with the hot oil, acidic compounds form that can really affect taste.
  • Polymerization – As oil breaks down, compounds form and bond together, which leads to surface foaming and the further breakdown of oil quality and taste.  This process is made even worse by food particles, which will inevitably collect in the oil as product is cooked.

There are several things you can do to combat the three enemies of oil quality.  Here’s some tips that address each one specifically:

Fighting oxidation: minimize fryer oil contact with the air whenever possible.  The most common method for doing this is to cover the fryer vat when the unit is shut down.  Also regulate oil temperature so that it doesn’t exceed 360 degrees Fahrenheit.  During lulls, reduce heat to 280 degrees.

Fighting hydrolysis: don’t fill fryer baskets directly over the fryer vat.  This is especially true for frozen product, because ice crystals will end up in the oil.  Of the three, hydrolysis is the hardest to fight, because there is going to be water in everything you cook.

Fighting polymerization: again, don’t fill fryer baskets over the vat.  Food particles speed polymerization, so a good technique is to load the fryer basket away from the vat and give it a few good shakes to allow any free particles to fall away before the product takes the plunge.  Another polymerization agent are seasonings, especially salt.  Add any seasoning away from the vat to keep them out of the oil as much as possible.

Of course, no matter how hard you fight, eventually it’s going to be a losing battle.  Water, air, and particulates are going to end up in your fryer oil no matter what you do.  Your only choice is to take them back out before the oil breaks down.  You can do this effectively with a good filtration system.

How much you filter your fryer oil depends on what you’re cooking, in what volume, and how often.  In general, breaded foods like fried chicken or fish mean you should filter more often, because of all the food particles that are going to end up in the oil.  French fries are much cleaner and therefore the oil can handle a lot more rounds before filtering.

Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last LongerNo matter what, you should develop a filtering schedule.  Fryer oil test strips are the best way to keep track of oil quality, and they’ll give you a starting point for your filter schedule.  Filtering fryer oil greatly extends the life of the oil, and smart restaurant operators filter the same oils several times to get the maximum life out of it before having to refill.

Portable fryer filters provide an easy way to filter fryer oil without slowing your busy kitchen down too much.  And when you’ve squeezed every last minute of cooking capability out of that vat of oil, dispose of it safely with an oil transporter.  Finally, use a Smart Spout for pouring new oil into the vat without spilling.Fryer Oil Maintenance: Tips To Make Oil Taste Better & Last Longer

Before you refill with a new batch of oil, however, you’ve got to clean that fryer vat out.  It’s a thankless job, but someone’s got to get in there and remove as much of that great friends of polymerization, food particulates, as possible.  Especially focus on cleaning the “cool zone,” the area underneath the burners in the vat where particles are intentionally concentrated in order to prevent them from heating up too much during cooking.  A water/vinegar mix is a great way to make sure detergents are neutralized after you’ve thoroughly cleaned the vat.

Maintaining fryer oil quality takes a lot of work.  But in the end, it’s worth the extra effort because you get a lot more mileage out of each vat of oil.  And if saving money isn’t enough of an incentive for you, then the prospect of serving great tasting fried foods to your customers every time should do the trick.

If you’re in the market for a new fryer, check out this commercial fryer buying guide.

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Restaurant Hood Filters: A Buying And Maintenance Guide

Restaurant Hood Filters: A Buying And Maintenance GuideMaintaining and replacing the hood filter in your commercial ventilation system is more important than you might think.  The hood filter is a metal square or rectangle that fits into the opening on your hood ventilation system.  Its purpose is to filter out grease from the smoke rising off your cooking equipment.  If this smoke were left unfiltered, it would build up over time in the ventilation system and become a major fire risk.

Therefore maintaining and replacing these filters is an important task.  Some things you should know about commercial hood filters:

Types of Hood Filters

Unless your cooking equipment is burning mesquite or some other sort of solid fuel, your hood ventilation system is using a baffle filter.  Baffle filters are most commonly made out of one of three types of metal:

  • Galvanized – these filters are the least expensive option.  They are rarely used in open kitchens where customers can see them because they have a dull appearance
  • Aluminum – these hood filters have an appealing sheen to them, making them usable in open kitchens, but they are prone to corrosion after repeated cleanings
  • Stainless Steel – these filters are by far the most durable.  They are also appealing to look at and can be used in an open kitchen.  They are less prone to corrosion than aluminum as long as they are not cleaned using bleach or other chemicals

Cleaning Hood Filters

Hood filters should be cleaned every day to keep them free of grease and maximize their filtering capability.  If you have a high temp dishwasher, run your hood filters through the dishwasher.  Make sure you don’t use any bleach when you clean hood filters as this will cause rapid corrosion!

If your dishwasher uses any kind of chemical, do not use it to clean hood filters.  Instead, clean the grease out of your hood filters with hot soapy water and dry them immediately after.

If grease is allowed to build up in hood filters, the risk of fire in your kitchen becomes very high.  The more packed with grease filters become, the less they filter from the smoke passing through your ventilation system.  That means the unfiltered grease ends up in the ducting, and if enough builds up, it could catch fire, potentially causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

When To Replace Your Hood Filter

Conduct regular visual inspections of your restaurant’s hood filters.  If corrosion, dents, or wear has created holes or disfiguration in the baffles, then it’s time to replace them.  It’s important to replace worn hood filters as quickly as possible.  Otherwise, grease will build up in the ducting of your ventilation system, and this can pose a very serious fire risk.

Sizing And Replacing Your Hood Filter

Properly sizing your hood filter is the most important thing you’ll do before ordering a new one.  Hood filters are typically sized ½ inch smaller in vertical and horizontal dimensions than the nominal sizes listed for your hood ventilation system.  In other words, if the hood opening is 20” x 20”, the correct sized hood filter for that system is 19 ½ “ tall by 19 ½ “ wide.

To determine the vertical height of the filter, measure parallel to the baffles from edge to edge.  The horizontal width is the distance from edge to edge perpendicular to the direction of the baffles.

To replace your hood filter, lift the old filter out of the slot rail in which it rests and slide it out.  Slide the new filter all the way into the slot opening and then drop the end into the rail.  Make sure you insert the hood filter with the baffles in a vertical position!  This means the lines in the filter are running up and down and not side to side.  Installing hood filters the wrong way means the grease will not drain properly and cause clogging.

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