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September 1998 Issue (Updated March 2002)
By Jennifer Hicks
SPECIAL REPORT: Detailing Disposers
There are good reasons to choose a disposer over the dump, and plenty of models—nine alone in this report. Disposers are more efficient than bagging, and they’re easier to deal with than you might think, say operators and suppliers alike.

Disposers don’t have a lot of pizzazz,” said the manufacturers’ rep. “They’re not like cooking equipment, where you’re making your money. Disposers just aren’t 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 we’d stumbled upon an equipment category many equipment specifiers would just as soon not think about.

Thing is, food waste doesn’t just go away. It’s 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 you’re 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 you’re talking disposers, you’re 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 you’ll 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 there’s a relationship between rotor/shredder diameter and higher horsepower efficiency. You’ll get more power with a higher hp, to be sure, but you’ll 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 unit’s throat should be wide enough to match the rate at which you want to dispose of waste. A narrower opening simply means you’ll 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, you’re looking for a combination of features—horsepower, rotor/ shredder diameter, throat openings—when 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 don’t 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, doesn’t use a rotor at all. Instead, several swinging cutter arms—from eight to 16 depending on the size of unit ordered—force 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 Cannibal’s 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 you’ve 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 you’ll need where. But here’s a rough guide: For sure you’ll 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 let’s 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 you’re serving more than 750 people per meal period, you probably won’t have to go beyond 3 hp in any application.

Last One To The Dump Loses
Now to understand what’s good about disposers, you’ve got to get a handle on what’s not good about bagging food waste. Bagging means you’ve 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 labor—spelled M-O-N-E-Y. Bagging food waste means more bagging and carrying in general, or more trouble than it’s worth. In fact, the main reason the Carson’s 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, Carson’s 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.

Carson’s isn’t alone. The manager of a Ryan’s Family Steak House in Lansing, Mich.—where they’re serving 800 meals a day—told us that “conservation-wise, we’re not generating so much trash, and not hauling so much to the Dumpster. It’s 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 wasn’t 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. It’s 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 items—and shells, if your supplier says so—out 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. Don’t put metal, rags or earthenware in the unit. Diligently avoid putting grease and oil down, as these can clog the drain like nobody’s 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 disposer’s 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 Is—Water!
Beyond jamming within the disposer itself, many of you on the commercial chain side lamented the plumbing backups sometimes associated with disposers. Here again, misuse as opposed to the disposer itself is likely the culprit. Water’s the key to keeping a line flushing right, which is why manufacturers recommend pre- and post-flushing of food waste. Stuffing the disposer full and then turning on the water will clog the line quicker than you can say, “Call the plumber.”

“At times we had some water-line clogs, but we discovered it was because we weren’t running enough water through during and after use,” said the foodservice director for city schools in The Plains, Ohio.

Another point made by several operators was that regular preventive maintenance should help eliminate these problems, too. “We have someone who comes every three weeks to take care of the plumbing,” says Tinoco at Carson’s, which has all but eliminated water-line clogs.

“A lot of time it’s not the garbage” just thrown in that causes the problem, adds one supplier. “Over a period of time you should have someone come in and rout out lines, and too many people just don’t do that. In a lot of chains there’s no preventive maintenance.”

Finally, several chain-store managers addressed what they called the liability issues involved with disposers. For them, that meant at some point an employee stuck his hand in a jammed disposer and came up shredded himself. Again, this issue, like most of the others, goes back to proper training, with an emphasis on safety.

A Few Comments From Inside
Sometimes when we do these stories we hear things that reflect equipment-purchasing reality but don’t always make operational sense.

For instance, we learned at the outset of this project that disposers sometimes get cut from chain equipment packages for financial reasons. When you’re putting together a package for a slew of new units and someone tells you to cut $15,000 out of each store, you look for things that seem nonessential. Unfortunately, in such situations disposers often get dumped on the first pass.

The decision might look good on paper. Since a typical 3-hp disposer runs roughly $1,500—a figure that mounts considerably when multiplied over just a dozen stores—you could whack thousands of dollars at a crack from your specs.

But if you talk to your colleagues you may find more downsides to eliminating disposers. The project manager for a 169-unit California-based chain, for example, says he now puts disposers into all new units and remods “because we found that without them we have more plumbing problems” from large food waste going down and clogging.

In other words, some of you out there have had more costly problems not using disposers than your counterparts using them reported.

We also heard that very often while the equipment specialist is talking to the equipment supplier, nobody’s talking to the equipment user. So when there are problems on site due to insufficient training or incorrect usage, managers might decide the disposer is at fault and not tell you, the specifier, or your supplier. And then no one knows how to fix the problems.

So you’ve got to decide. Your stores need a food waste disposal alternative, and provided there’s proper training at the store level, disposers are a great option. Talk to your store-level managers, your regional managers and your suppliers to learn what works and how. And follow up to be certain the equipment you’ve specified meets the actual needs of your stores.

These nine companies represent all the disposer folks
we’ve crossed paths with over the last 12 years.
Hammerall Disposer Co.
Hobart Corp.
Insinger Machine Co.
Master Disposers
Nemco Food Equipment
Red Goat Disposers
Salvajor Co.
Waste King Commercial

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