September 1998 Issue (Updated March 2002)
By Jennifer Hicks
There are good reasons to choose a disposer over the dump, and plenty of modelsnine alone in this report. Disposers are more efficient than bagging, and theyre easier to deal with than you might think, say operators and suppliers alike.
Disposers dont have a lot of pizzazz, said the manufacturers rep. Theyre not like cooking equipment, where youre making your money. Disposers just arent glamorous.
With that we should have turned and run from this story. Not only are food waste disposers unglamorous, they sometimes elicit opinions that are, shall we say, unflattering. Our conversations with operators were peppered with words like jam, clog and plumber. And we soon learned that wed stumbled upon an equipment category many equipment specifiers would just as soon not think about.
Thing is, food waste doesnt just go away. Its part of your stores everyday operations, which means you need to know how to get rid of it. And disposers themselves, when used properly, can be a boon to your dishrooms. To get a true picture, we gathered information on the nine brands you see here, interviewed a handful of suppliers, talked with more than 40 operators and corporate purchasing folks, then called back some of the suppliers with tough questions.
The results: Notes on how to specify the right disposer, lots of comments about actual onsite disposer performance, and guidelines for keeping units running optimally. Read on.
Of Shredder Rings, Throats And Cutter Arms
Before we launch into comments from operators and suppliers, you should know what youre looking at in these pages. We show photos and spec boxes for nine suppliers of disposers in alpha order, including Hammerall Disposer Co., Hobart Corp., Insinger Machine Co., In-Sink-Erator, Master Disposers, Nemco Food Equipment, Red Goat Disposers, Salvajor Co. and Waste King. You might find some other suppliers out there, but for the most part these are the folks to turn to with disposer questions. Spec boxes show details for entire lines, not just specific models.
Basically when youre talking disposers, youre talking one of two types. The first, and by far the most widely manufactured, uses a rotor turning against a toothed shredder ring to grind waste. Eight of the suppliers in this story offer this type.
Depending on who you talk to, the rotor can be called a turntable, grinding table, flywheel or grind wheel. The shredder ring is sometimes called a grinding sleeve. Attached to the rotor youll find anywhere from two to six cutter blocks or impact breakers, hunks of metal that force food against the teeth of the shredder ring.
You can buy rotor-style disposers with horsepower ratings from 3&Mac218;4 to 10. But before you sign up for the Conan the Barbarian model, wait. You might think more horsepower automatically equals more waste grinding ability, but theres a relationship between rotor/shredder diameter and higher horsepower efficiency. Youll get more power with a higher hp, to be sure, but youll need enough rotor surface to actually be able to grind more waste. Rotors come in diameters of 6 to 15.
The size of the throat opening matters, too. Again, if you step up in horsepower because you expect to be stuffing down hefty loads, the units throat should be wide enough to match the rate at which you want to dispose of waste. A narrower opening simply means youll spend more time stuffing waste than if you had a wider opening. You can find throat openings of 41&Mac218;2 to 81&Mac218;2, again depending on model.
In short, youre looking for a combination of featureshorsepower, rotor/ shredder diameter, throat openingswhen you go shopping for an effective disposer, so ask a lot of questions.
A note on anti-jamming features: Among the rotor-style disposers, many offer automatic reversing control, a feature that helps avoid jams by turning the rotor in the opposite direction each time the disposer starts. Of the suppliers that dont offer this feature, one touts its anti-jam swivel impellers, which the company says rotate out of the way of an impending jam and then fall back into grinding position.
The other type of disposer, a belt-driven chewer made only by Hammerall, doesnt use a rotor at all. Instead, several swinging cutter armsfrom eight to 16 depending on the size of unit orderedforce food against a grind screen. Food waste is fed down into the throat opening, but unlike rotor-style units whose cutting elements sit vertically just beneath the opening, the aptly named Cannibals grind chamber sits horizontally within a stainless steel cabinet. Four horsepower ratings and two throat opening options are available.
By the way, across the board these disposers have typical electrical requirements, meaning you can choose from single or triple phase and from all common voltages. These units requirements are so typical, and so varied, in fact, that we omitted an electrical requirements section from the spec boxes.
Once youve sorted out the electrics, look into sizing. Suppliers should be able to provide you with a sizing chart, or at least a verbal explanation of what size machine youll need where. But heres a rough guide: For sure youll want a disposer in your scrapping area, and depending on the size of your operation, you might consider several others at veggie prep, meat prep and the pot sink.
Now lets say yours is a family-style restaurant serving 200 to 300 people per daypart. Think 2-hp disposer for scrapping, perhaps even a 3-hp if your food waste includes a lot of bones. Your veggie prep can handle a 11&Mac218;2 horse, your pot sink a 3&Mac218;4.
As for others, unless youre serving more than 750 people per meal period, you probably wont have to go beyond 3 hp in any application.
Last One To The Dump Loses
Now to understand whats good about disposers, youve got to get a handle on whats not good about bagging food waste. Bagging means youve got more waste in the kitchen for a longer time, plus tossing those bags out back invites vermin and insects. And it all smells bad eventually. Later, at the landfill, decomposing food produces acids and carcinogens that can migrate to the local water supply.
But those are just the sanitation and ecological issues. Closer to your financial heart, bagging also costs you laborspelled M-O-N-E-Y. Bagging food waste means more bagging and carrying in general, or more trouble than its worth. In fact, the main reason the Carsons Ribs unit in Deerfield, Ill., installed a 3-hp disposer several years ago in its warewashing area is because of the difficulty not using a disposer caused.
We use our disposer a lot because of the bones, says Jose Tinoco, Carsons head cook. Garbage bags just get too heavy with the bones, which come, he says, from the 300 to 400 meals the rib specialist serves on weekdays. The kitchen generates even more on weekends.
Carsons isnt alone. The manager of a Ryans Family Steak House in Lansing, Mich.where theyre serving 800 meals a daytold us that conservation-wise, were not generating so much trash, and not hauling so much to the Dumpster. Its more cost effective.
In short, disposers help eliminate problems by flushing food waste, including bones, melon rinds and some shells, out of the kitchen and into a sewer system. Ground and liquified waste typically heads to the street sewer, is carried to a main interceptor and a pumping station, then moves on to a sewage treatment plant. Some municipalities then sell the treated sludge as fertilizer and ground conditioner. In the end, disposer use means you bag less, and you may even pay less in tipping fees based on volume or weight.
Another Fork Bites The Dust
Yes, we know, it all sounds sooooo simple up to this point. But what about the rest? To find out, we talked to dozens of restaurant and institutional managers nationwide about their disposers, past and present, asking how the units work.
Not surprisingly, the number one concern of managers, particularly among the chains, was disposer jamming. Seems that in a lot of chain restaurants nonfood things like forks and straws end up in disposers on a regular basis and shut down the units. Sometimes jams result from clam shells or potato peelings, chain users reported. And after enough frustrating jamming episodes, disposers are often dismantled or their openings are covered with mesh so nothing goes into them but water, some restaurant managers said.
Oddly enough, however, among the institutional managers we spoke with, regular jamming wasnt a problem. We have no problems at all, said the foodservice manager at a hospital in Rutherfordton, N.C., serving 850 meals per day. I have a good crew. If you have a staff that respects the equipment and treats it well, it will last longer. Another institutional user reported her previous disposer had been in place for 15 years with few problems.
The equipment-life difference here may be related to type of employee. Typically you see less turnover in some institutional settings, which helps ensure long-term proper usage of equipment provided the initial training is right on. At the chain-store level a higher turnover rate taxes training and supervision efforts. Plus, younger workers hampered by nonwork concerns may not be as committed to taking care of equipment as more experienced employees.
Thus, when we went back to suppliers with the jamming concern, most conceded that jam prevention is a training issue first, operational issue second. Its one thing to train employees to sort bussed dish- and flatware well, another to make sure the task is done properly. To help on those occasions when a spoon gets past someone, most suppliers provide devices designed to catch flatware before it goes into the drink. But even these are only so helpful.
Fact is, keeping nonfood itemsand shells, if your supplier says soout of a food waste disposer is the best way to keep it jam free. And follow basic operating procedure: Start the disposer before feeding food waste, and be sure water is flowing. Dont put metal, rags or earthenware in the unit. Diligently avoid putting grease and oil down, as these can clog the drain like nobodys business. Finally, always run water for a short period after grinding to assure proper flushing of the waste line. Most units offer an auto post-grinding feature that lets you time a water flush up to several minutes.
A note on water consumption: Many suppliers provide water control valves that add roughly three to five gallons of water per minute when the disposers running. At least one manufacturer also offers a system that senses when the running disposer is empty of food waste and cuts back to just one gal. per minute until more waste is tossed in.
The Secret Ingredient IsWater!
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