Foodservice Equipment Reports

BACK STORY: Clean With Caution

The igniters on ovens at a restaurant chain specializing in roasted chicken kept failing. One particular location called the service company four times in one month about the problem, but other nearby chain locations were experiencing igniter failure as well.

“Since several igniters had failed, we contacted the manufacturer for new ones. We wondered if they’d happened to install a bad batch,” says John Schwindt, v.p. of Hawkins Commercial Appliance Service in Englewood, Colo. 

After a couple of the newly installed igniters failed, water damage became the prime suspect. Yet, when Schwindt’s service agent inspected the ovens, they were clean and dry.

“The store manager swore they never sprayed anything down,” Schwindt says. “The manager told me they didn’t even have hoses in that part of the kitchen.”

“The manager wanted to call in another service company—that’s how much he doubted our diagnosis,” Schwindt recalls. 

Schwindt decided to find out for himself. “I asked the facilities manager to meet me at the store at closing to check it out together,” Schwindt says. “We watched as the cleaning crew brought in a garden hose and sprayer and were spraying the inside of the oven to clean it out.” 

“It’s a wonder the igniters lasted as long as they did,” Schwindt adds. 

The next day, he invited the company’s corporate manager to meet him for a similar back-door evening viewing.

“It took about 15 minutes of us peeking through the window,” Schwindt says. “After the manager saw the evidence, he took care of it the next day. They were a little embarrassed.”

Schwindt has seen unorthodox cleaning practices take their toll on other pieces of restaurant equipment. 

“Another restaurant chain we know of kept blowing out the spark modules on their fryer bank,” Schwindt says. When the technician checked in on the matter, the fryers’ greasy surfaces proved that they weren’t being sprayed down.

The modules failed again within the month. “Again, there were no signs of water. Again, I made a late-evening visit, stood outside the window and just watched. This time, nothing. I came back in the morning at about 7 a.m., and at that time, I found the problem. The morning cleaning crew was spraying water—not at the equipment, but at the floor. Enough water was splashing up and hitting the bottoms of the fryers to short out the modules.” 

“The equipment was all on casters, but the cleaning crew was taking shortcuts and not moving it the way they should have been,” Schwindt says.

Bottom line: Be willing to do the detective work. “Our technicians want to get your equipment fixed and keep it working. If they suspect something, it’s in your best interest to investigate early or late, whatever it takes.”

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