Foodservice Equipment Reports

Keepin' Combis Cookin'

When a correctional facility in Knoxville, Tenn., scheduled corn bread for an evening meal, a broken combi threw a serious wrench into the day’s production. Fortunately a few ovens in the nearby bakery took over corn bread duty, but the problem could have been avoided altogether. Mark LeBerte, president of ATECH Inc., Nashville, Tenn., says the combi’s pump failed because it was full of minerals, which may have been caused by poor water filtration or improper cleaning of the unit.

“It’s usually the simple things that go wrong because an operator doesn’t take care of the equipment properly,” says LeBerte. LeBerte notes there are relatively easy steps to take to keep combis working in top condition. Most of them don’t take much
time and don’t require much more labor from staff.

Read The Manual
The single most important thing you can do, LeBerte says, is follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the use and care of your combi. Sounds simple, but how many of us think we can intuitively figure out how to use a new gadget without reading the manual or assemble a DIY kit without looking at the instructions?

Combi ovens are sophisticated pieces of equipment that can work wonders, but they deserve to be treated with care and respect. And because features and construction may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, proper care for your oven may differ
from that of another brand.

Keep It Clean
One commonality, however, is cleanliness.

“If you read the owner’s use and care manual from almost any combi oven manufacturer, the bulk of the care instructions will be on proper cleaning,” LeBerte says. “Most manuals, for example, recommend cleaning the oven interior at least once a day and more frequently if necessary.”

Temperature probes, which may or may not need to be removed before cleaning, must be kept clean or your oven won’t cook properly. In many cases, probes are key for controlling cooking cycles. If food builds up on the probes, they simply won’t
work right. Boilers, too, must be kept clean and free of scale or the oven may stop working entirely.

Most combi ovens have a cleaning cycle that you can operate manually or program to run automatically. In many cases, it’s as simple as throwing a cleaning tablet in the oven, closing the door and pushing a button.

“The cleaning mode is easy to run at night when everyone’s gone for the day,” says LeBerte, “but too many cooks are in a hurry to get home and don’t run the cycle.”

Another problem LeBerte sees is impatient kitchen staffers who interrupt a cleaning cycle so they can use the oven. “Most ovens have a purge cycle that removes
all the chemicals if the cleaning cycle is interrupted. It can take about 27 mins. or so, which might mean the oven is out of use even longer than if they’d let
the cleaning cycle finish.”

Monitor Water Quality
Another big issue with combis: water quality. “If you don’t have a water filtration system, water quality can quickly affect your oven’s performance,” LeBerte explains. “Solenoid valves, drain valves, probes and pumps all can fail due to bad water. Cleaning and deliming per manufacturer specifications are vital.”

Using a polyphosphate filter can help prevent scale from building up on key components mentioned above as well as boiler heating elements and interior surfaces. The best solution is to have your local water tested and then filter to suit.

Seal Those Doors
Clean the door gaskets daily with warm, soapy water to prevent crusted food from preventing a good seal. Not only is a good seal required for proper operation, but a bad seal could affect the electronics board or the control panel. LeBerte says one client’s oven door leaked so badly that during the cleaning cycle water got all
over the floor.

When gaskets start to wear, replace them. In most cases, you can easily do it yourself. And while you’re at it, check the hinges; keep them clean and replace them if they get loose.

TLC And Regular Service
The kitchen may be a busy place, but you should encourage staffers to slow down and treat equipment with respect. Make sure employees are careful when loading and unloading a combi oven so temperature probes and pan rails don’t get broken or bent.

Also important: care of an oven’s glass door. One of LeBerte’s clients once called to report the glass door panel in a combi had broken, which is not an easy thing to do. “It wasn’t an easy fix because the glass panel had to come from Italy. Even some ovens with American brand names are made in Europe, and the wait for special parts can be two to four weeks.”

You won’t be able to get at some parts, such as fans and motors, easily. To keep your combis in tip-top shape, service them about once a quarter, LeBerte says. A good service tech can take care of any maintenance that you can’t do on your own.

FER thanks the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association for its
help with this story.

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