By Jennifer Hicks
As the little guys among washers, undercounters face the same scrutiny: high-temp or low-temp? Lease or buy? We consider these issues and more, and look at five major brands.
No doubt about it: These are good days for undercounter warewashers. Sales have risen steadily in the last five years, say suppliers; with customer counts up and labor resources down, there are more dishes with fewer people to clean them. That makes automated equipment pretty attractive.
More importantly, trends in tight-space specing and increasing concern for sanitation have converged to make undercounter washing a mini trend of its own. Continued growth in coffee shops and casino bars and new growth in healthcare, daycare and c-stores have driven sales in recent years.
Buy Now Or Pay Later
As with other types of warewashers, you have a choice when it comes to acquiring an undercounter dishmachine: buy or lease. Manufacturers sell and sometimes lease, while various chemical companies lease as part of a programyou get the machine, the chemicals and all service for a monthly fee. The choice boils down to your budgetwanna pay now, or over time?and your service concerns.
As we researched undercountersdishwashers, not dedicated glasswashersthe names of five companies consistently came up in conversations as the suppliers with the most significant market share: Auto-Chlor, Champion Industries, CMA, Hobart Corp. and Jackson MSC. So models from these companies appear in spec boxes and in our quick-comparison chart below.
But no paring of a supplier list is ever that simple, and in this case there are at least another five undercounter suppliers that were aware of whose combined market share is substantial. Which means youre bound to run into them on the undercounter washer circuit. So were arming you with info on these five companiesBlakeslee, Insinger Machine Co., Jet-Tech, Market Forge and Moyer Diebelvia the sidebar below.
Beyond that, you should know the Jackson machine shown here is also leased under the badge of Ecolab; Jackson is in fact an Ecolab subsidiary. And theres a company called American Dish Service making an awful lot of undercounters that are private labeled by an awful lot of smaller chemical companies. Also, Stero Co. markets a chemical-sanitizing glasswasher thats NSF-approved to handle dishes, but only up to 9 in diameter, due to the design of the machine.
Now the large number of suppliers suggests that in this country, as in Europe, the undercounter dishmachine is a basic commodity item. At the high end youll find street prices ranging from $2,800 to $3,500 for a high-temp, and for that youll get a 24-square, 34-high box with water tank, built-in booster heater, upper and lower spray arms, solid-state controls and some special features. No ones ever called the undercounter complex.
But certainly when youre laying out any amount of cash you want to know what to look for and what youre getting. So your first concern should be your operations daily volume. Next consider the high- and low-temp options with a mind to your menu type. And then theres efficiency.
But first, why even consider an undercounter dishmachine? If youve never had one, youve likely gotten by with 3-compartment sink washingone sink for hot, soapy water, the second for rinse water and the third for a sanitizer. This method does the job, of course, but it requires constant sink draining and refilling as water cools and soils. Which means the 3-comp sink route eats up employee time and attention.
Labor might not be your only concern, either. Some of you may be in jurisdictions that require foodservice outlets to run mechanical dishwashing units without regard for food product or volume. But its more likely youd like to cash in on the benefits of undercounter washing, which frees your employees to go do something else while the dishmachine goes to work.
A Question Of Volume
Step one in the spec process: Make sure youre a candidate for an undercounter rather than a larger machine. Typical undercounter users include coffee shops, snack bars, small chains, healthcare and daycare centers, small jails and bars, but if your scene is small restaurants, dont assume that just because your space is tight an undercounter is all youll need.
Heres the basic rule: Youll do well with an undercounter if youve got less than 80 seats. (A couple manufacturers here recommend only going up to 50 seats, but its generally accepted that 80 is your max-out point.)
Think of it this way: If youre a 30-seat operation using five pieces of ware per person, youve got 150 items to wash after one turn of the restaurant. If you rack 15 dishes per load, at roughly two minutes per cycle you can wash 10 loads or 150 pieces in 20 minutes, not counting the 10 to 15 minutes youll need for load/reload time. In this scenario youll get by just fine with a machine rated for 30 racks per hourthe type well look at later.
Hot Water Only, Or Add The Chlorine?
So, just like the larger warewashers, there are hot-water and chemical-sanitizing machines. Which means youll be killing off microbes with either searing hot water or an unforgiving chemical, usually chlorine.
The high-temp machine uses the heat of wash and rinse water to sanitize ware. The wash tank, which holds anywhere from 3 to 5 gals. of water, normally is constantly heated above 150°F. This design accounts for heat loss during washing; when ware absorbs heat, the high tank temp and capacity ensure the remaining tank water doesnt drop below 150°F, in anticipation of the next wash load.
The high-temp can also come with a booster heater to reach its final rinse of at least 180°F. The vast majority of undercounters sold with boosters have them built-in. If you dont order a booster, your incoming water has to arrive at 180°F to do the job.
The low-temp or chemical-sanitizing machine uses chemicals in the wash water and chlorine or liquid bleach in the rinse cycle to fully sanitize loads. Typical wash and rinse temps run to 140°F; youll find no booster here. The low-temps tank is much smaller than that found on a high-temp, usually just 1 1/2 gal. in capacity; the higher water temps arent needed where chemicals are the main sanitizing agent, so the larger, constantly heated tank isnt necessary, either.
In operation, the low-temps design requires constant auto dumping and refilling of the tank, while the high-temps tank need only be dumped and refilled a couple times a day to remove food waste lingering in the water.
To High-Temp Or Low-Temp
When asked for guidance on how to choose between a high-temp and low-temp, every supplier had an opinion. So well share what we heard and let you make sense of it for your stores.
First, food waste counts. Cheese and animal protein usually need really hot water to power off their leavings, although you dont want to go too hot, lest you bake that melted cheddar right back onto the plate. Meanwhile, coffee and dessert outlets probably dont need scalding water to get mugs and plates perfectly clean.
Proponents of both high-temps and low-temps say their machines are suitable for all applications, although the low-temp folks note that you dont want to use a chem-sanitizing machine with china containing precious metals. Chlorine wreaks havoc with gold and silver plating. And liquid bleach, used in some low-temps, does a number on aluminum and pewter, too.
As for performance, some suggest you consider the occasional residual odor of the chlorine used in a low-temp machine. Theres the chance your glasses, for example, will come out with a bit of chlorine smell on them. How often thatll be a factor for you or your customers is up for debate, of course, but we heard it mentioned, so were passing it on.
And then there was this comment from one supplier: low-temp machines tend to need less servicing over time since the units dont require super-heated water and thus are less prone to high-heat problems. Again, thats something youll have to check yourself by quizzing your supplier.
Bottom line: Rely on the advice of your dealer or repand your own common sensewhen making a high-temp/low-temp decision.
Pumped Drains, Solid-States And Built-In Boosters
On to the products. Weve divided these model discussions by machine type to help you in the comparison process. We start with the high-temp machines, in alpha order by company, and dispense with the spec details already shown in our comparison chart and individual spec boxes.
Champions high-temp UH-200B offers top-mounted solid-state controls that come standard and sit in a slide-out cabinet for easy servicing. The UH-200B comes with a pumped drain, which means you dont have to worry about wall drain height. Built-in booster is also standard.
The UH-200B features solid-state water-level control and low-water tank heater protection. You also get a manual override function that allows you to extend wash times. Interchangeable spray arms are stainless steel. And heres a unique feature: an automatic rinse-down cycle to help eliminate food soil and detergent buildup.
Next up: Hobart. In this class Hobart offers the high-temp LX30H, which comes with top-mounted, slide-out solid-state controls and a pumped drain. A built-in booster is standard on this model, as well, and Hobart offers water-level control and low-water tank heater protection.
As for special features, note the LX30H has the greatest chamber height of these five high- and low-temp models: 17. Thats important if you have 16 x 18 trays to be washed. The company also promotes the design of the holes in its wash arms; instead of having a flat hole in a spray arm, the typical design, Hobart stamps indented holes. Its a dimpled design that makes the holes less likely to clog with food waste, says Hobart.
Jacksons high-temp JP-24BF comes with electro-mechanical controls mounted in the lower half of the unit, and these controls are recessed for protection. A pumped drain is standard, as is the booster heater. Butand heres where Jackson is differentthat booster doubles as both the incoming water heater and the wash tank heater. The booster is mounted against the floor of the wash tank to make use of thermal transfer. The design thus eliminates the need for heating elements inside the tank, which eases maintenance. Also, the design shrinks the water tank to just under 1 1/2 gal.
Other JP-24BF features include a manual override for extended wash and deliming purposes. Spray arms are stainless steel.
The Chem-Sanitizing Options
And now the low-temps. For this story Auto-Chlor submitted its U34, a machine whose electro-mechanical controls are located in the lower front compartment. The drain, not pumped, opens downward to allow full flow with no obstructions to the machine discharge. Other features include a deliming switch inside the electrical enclosure door.
Auto-Chlor promotes the U34 as a machine that incorporates all the benefits of its larger warewashersincluding rotating upper and lower wash armsinto a compact package. And a low NSF rating for water consumption per rack1.18 gals.also keeps chemical use down.
For CMA were showing the familiar low-temp L-1X, whose electro-mechanical controls get top-mounted and rest in an easy-sliding drawer.
The L-1X offers built-in chemical injectors with primer switches and a built-in deliming switch. Upper and lower wash arms come standard on the CMA unit. And like the high-temps, the L-1Xs drain is pumped. As for options, you can get a sustainer heater to keep wash water hot between loads.
Other general notes: Champion, Hobart and Jackson each offer a low-temp option in addition to these high-tempers. And they sell machines of different rack ratings, too. Champion offers a total of six models; Hobart offers eight machines; and Jackson sells six models.
As for Auto-Chlor and CMA, only CMA also offers a high-temp machine in addition to its low-temp, as weve noted. The 180UC is designed and positioned to compete with the Champion, Hobart and Jackson machines shown here, says CMA.
Also, Jacksons on the verge of introducing a whole new set of undercounters called the Classic Series. The line is so new, in fact, that as we go to press there arent even specs available. Two of the four Classics will be designed to fit on countertops. The Classics will be brought in from Great Britain. (See Editors Note at beginning of story.)
Which brings up another point: Several of the suppliers in our sidebar are also bringing in machines from overseas. European undercounters have long been known for high standards of quality, and in a market where its not necessary to reinvent the wheel, some U.S. suppliers have forged successful partnerships with crack overseas undercounter makers.
Your spec jobs not done until you consider several other factors: 1) sturdiness of door construction; 2) compensation for incoming water temps; and 3) the placement of the unit as it relates to employee ergonomics.
First, youll find undercounters abused in daily use; open doors often are used as step stools for reaching high-shelved items. So you not only want doors that open and close with ease, you want to be sure those doors will stand up, so to speak, when employees stand on them.
Next, youll want to be sure the booster heater on your high-temp unit can handle the degree rise you need for the final 180°F rinse mandated by NSF. If your water hits the machine at 140°F, youll need a 40°F rise. But some operations these days are delivering 110°F water and need a 70°F rise. Make sure your machine can deliver.
Also, dont expect your low-temp machine to work optimally if you arent providing the 140°F water needed for it to do its job. Suppliers told us theyve heard complaints about low-temp performance only to find the incoming water temp isnt up to snuff.
Finally, consider the workspace where your undercounter will sit. Yes, these units are made for under-counter spaces, but if youve got employees with back problems, you may want to consider placing the unit on an 8 to 16 pedestal.
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