Foodservice Equipment Reports

TECH TIPS: Trouble-Free Conveyor Cooking

While countertop conveyor ovens started out in high-volume pizza shops, they’re now being used to prepare a variety of menu items, including burgers, chicken, hot sandwiches and even baked goods. The conveyor oven’s potential to increase commercial-kitchen efficiency, as well as its reputation for ruggedness and reliability, has led to its growing marketability. But with such a reputation often comes the tendency to forget that even these kitchen workhorses can fail if they’re not installed properly or don’t receive the required maintenance.

Installation 

Manufacturers advise first considering the conveyor’s initial installation. You have to make sure it’s situated in such a way that the cooling fans get plenty of airflow. The fans keep equipment’s electronic components cool—generally the oven’s most vulnerable parts—and if the fans can’t move air efficiently, the electronics are prone to overheating and, eventually, they’ll fail.

Most kitchens are tight on extra hood space, so a lot of times operators install the countertop conveyor oven wherever it will fit and still be covered. Then clean, cool airflow becomes a secondary consideration. Even worse, if the oven is installed next to a fryer or grill, you’re shortening the cooling fans’ efficiency and life cycle because they’ll draw in hot air—not good for cooling—and the hot air will be infused with airborne grease. If hood space is an issue, choose a model approved for ventless operation so you can give the conveyor room to breathe. 

Some conveyor-oven models can be stacked one on top of another, but be sure to use the recommended legs to, maintain, again, proper ventilation. Most manufacturers position the countertop conveyor oven’s electronics in the back of the unit. Keep in mind that, at some point, a technician is going to have to access the electronics; if you plan for it during installation, your service calls will go a lot faster.

Additionally, be careful when selecting a base. Conveyors are generally heavy because of their solid construction, so choose a base that is rated for the proper weight; this often eliminates surfaces such as prep tables. Finally, make sure the unit is secure and can’t be pulled from its base by snagging on an employee’s clothing or hooking on a passing cart, etc. 

Daily Operation

Because of its conveyor-belt component, things stored near or on top of the oven sometimes accidentally wind up inside. Depending on which unintended object makes its way into the oven, resulting problems can include minor smoke and bad odor or serious damage. Plastic lids are frequent offenders, and metal spoons are one of the more damaging. Eliminate the risk, and make it a rule that employees are prohibited from storing anything near or on top of the oven that does not belong inside, i.e., pans. 

If your menu permits, use pans or baking sheets under the items you send through to significantly reduce grease buildup and crumb accumulation; tidy ovens require less extensive cleaning and maintenance.

Maintenance 

Begin your oven’s daily maintenance by servicing the cooling fans and ensuring unrestricted clean airflow. Clean the fans’ protective screens or louvers—as well as any other filtering media—according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Wipe down the exterior, and brush any food debris off of the conveyor belt. Empty crumb trays as well.

Weekly maintenance depends on your menu and how long the oven is in service during the day. Remove, soak and scrub the conveyor belt weekly; some manufacturers recommend using a high-pressure hose to remove all debris—in a sink, not in place. Remove moving parts subject to grease buildup for soaking and washing as well, and try to keep parts together in a tub. Lastly, thoroughly brush out the oven’s interior, removing all crumbs and food residue. 

Periodically, have a service technician inspect and clean the electronic controls. In pizza and sandwich shops especially, airborne flour and grease can wreak havoc on control mother boards (see “Preventive Maintenance Fires Up Pizza Production,” March 2014).

Additional periodic maintenance requirements include wiping down the heating elements (when the unit is cool), testing and adjusting the conveyor belt for proper tension and calibrating the unit’s heat settings and conveyor speed. Instructions will walk you through these steps, or the tech can take care of them. The frequency of required periodic service depends on the grease splatter produced by your menu (for example, burgers, chicken or buttered pretzels) and how long the oven is in service each day. A unit that’s cooking 18-24 hours a day, especially a menu of greasy foods, may require periodic service twice a year while a unit in service 6-8 hours a day, processing relatively dry foods, might only need service every other year.

Finally, a good contingency plan for conveyors is to have a spare belt link on hand in case the belt is damaged. A spare fuse is a good idea, too.

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