FOCUS: Scrap Happy
We’ve talked a lot in these pages about how dishmachine manufacturers have made great strides in building machines that use less water and energy with each new iteration. And they still do a terrific job of cleaning tableware, utensils and even pots and pans. After all, that’s the objective of your dishroom.
A dishroom, however, comprises three parts: a soiled-ware area and a clean-ware area with a warewasher in the middle. If all three areas work in concert, your dishroom will be pretty efficient. And any dishmachine manufacturer will tell you, the more effective the soiled-ware area is at prepping dishes for washing, the more efficient the dishmachine will be at getting them clean.
But why do you have to prep dirty dishes for washing? While makers of residential dishwashers claim all you have to do at home is throw (well, gently place) dishes inside and the machine will do the rest, the opposite is true in a commercial or institutional dishroom. Remember that residential dishmachines dump the wash water after every load, but commercial dishmachines reuse filtered wash water over several cycles. Dishes, glassware, flatware, utensils, pots and pans should be as clear as possible before they go in the dishmachine for it to do an effective job in one pass.
That means scrapping and/or rinsing all of those different kinds of permanent wares before they go in the machine. While that may seem like a simple thing to do, you really need to take a look at your entire soiled-ware area to design an effective scrapping station.
You may be stuck with your existing dishroom, but if you’re buying a new dishmachine or opening new foodservice units, consider incorporating some of the ideas noted in this article to make scrapping more efficient and your dishroom more productive.
Scrap The Old Ways
While the basics of clearing off dishes so they’re ready for the dishmachine are much the same as ever, environmental concerns, as well as your options, have increased. Like any other function in the kitchen, your goal is maximizing productivity and efficiency in the dishroom. Start by scrapping your conventional thinking.
Full disclosure: I received a bachelor’s degree in English. You can do two things with an English degree right out of college: teach or wash dishes. I washed dishes. Back then, the soiled dish table had a hole in it with a rubber rim and a trash can underneath. We banged the edge of each dish on the rubber rim, knocking anything on the plate into the trash. We racked the dishes, slid the rack over to a 20-in. x 20-in. sink with a disposer, gave the dishes a quick spray and shoved them into a rack-conveyor machine.
In foodservice-facility design, dishrooms often are an afterthought. The architect allots so much space to the kitchen; the foodservice consultant lays out the equipment needed to produce the menu at the projected volume and whatever space is left over is designated as the dishroom. The reason door-type or 44-in. rack-conveyor dishmachines are so popular is because they often are the only machines that will fit.
As mentioned previously, the dishroom encompasses more than the dishmachine. Components of the soiled-ware area include a landing area for bus tubs, trays or carts of dishes; an area to separate and rack glassware, flatware, utensils and cookware; and an area to scrap dishes and separate trash from recyclable and compostable materials and rack dishes. This area also may include a 3- or 4-compartment sink, depending on code, a pot scrubber, a power soaker, a flatware/utensil bin or soaker, a mop sink—you get the idea.
Give Me Some Space
Just as you spec the dishmachine itself to handle projected peak volume in your operation, create enough space in the soiled-ware area to receive dishes, pots and pans generated by that volume. In a small operation, that may mean a simple 5-ft. work table for bus tubs or pots and pans.
A large institutional kitchen might require a tray accumulator to circulate trays and dishes returned after a meal until staff can sort, scrap and load them into a dishmachine. A hospital might require floor space for carts returning with soiled trays from patient floors. A trayless system in a university may be set up with dish dollies, so employees can scrap dishes as they’re returned to the kitchen and stack them for loading in the dishmachine later.
Scrapping includes emptying glasses, which may contain ice, garnishes and straws in addition to liquid. You’ll need space to dump and rack them. Most dishroom designs angle racks on shelving over the soiled-ware table or scrapping station for easy loading, but, again, make sure you have room for accumulating peak volume quantities of glassware.
Don’t forget flatware, either. The simplest solution is a soaking bin. Some small restaurants just use a small bus tub, but some specially made flatware tubs have a perforated insert that can be lifted out of the soaking solution to dump the flatware into a rack. Large operations, such as banquet rooms, casinos, etc., often use a flatware soaker that agitates flatware and utensils in a large basin to help remove dried-on food. And if employees scrap into a trough (see below), you’ll want to spec either a barricade that prevents flatware from falling into the disposer or a magnetic catch (which only works on flatware containing iron and nickel, not 18/8 stainless or sterling silver).
Remember that you need space in the dishroom for employees, too, not just dishes. Again, in a QSR or small restaurant, one person probably can handle scrapping, washing, unloading and restocking clean dishes. A unit handling hundreds of meals an hour may require two employees to scrap dishes and another to load. They’ll need a larger work area and a scrapping trough, not just a 20-in. x 20-in. sink. Typically, design layouts give each employee about 2½ ft. of space when working at a scrapping trough.
Manual Or Water-Assist?
The simplest way to scrap a plate is by hand, and dishroom employees probably will have to separate trash from food waste anyway. But simply pushing food waste off of a plate, either with a hand or a tool such as a spatula, may not get it as soil-free as a water-assisted system.
Almost all kitchens have a pre-rinse spray arm. The most basic and inexpensive choice, a powerful pre-rinse spray arm can get most food off of dishes that manual scraping doesn’t. Mounted at a 20-in. x 20-in. sink containing a screen or perforated metal basket, a pre-rinse spray arm lets the dish washer rinse off racks of dishes or other ware before loading them into the dishmachine. A good dish washer can scrap and rack about 800 dishes per hour with a spray arm. And if you’re dealing with large pans, a spray arm is essential for full water coverage.
Spray arms require employees to use one hand to operate the spray valve. If dishes are coming into the dishroom too fast, some sort of hands-free water assistance can help. There are several options depending on the size of your operation and volume of dishes employees have to scrap. One solution is using foot-pedal or hip-pad actuators to turn water on and off, giving staff free use of their hands to scrap and/or load dishes.
A step up, in terms of capacity, is a food-waste collector. A deep well or basin with a perforated basket inside, a collector recirculates water in a heavy plume at 30 gpm to rinse dishes, but only consumes 2 gpm of fresh water. Employees load the basin with dishes, scrapping a dish under the water plume with one hand while loading the last-scrapped dish into a rack with the other hand. Solid debris collects in the basket while soluble waste goes into the water circulator. An overflow pipe in the water tank below skims debris from the top of the water to keep the plume reasonably clear. When the collection basket is full, employees lift it out and empty it into the trash. Several makers offer collector systems.
A similar system circulates water in a sink large enough to accommodate trays and sheet pans, but the sink has a disposer attached to the drain, so food waste grinds up and goes down the drain into the sewer system.
When employees need to keep up with larger rack-conveyor or flight-type dishmachines, putting more than one station along the scrapping trough is the best solution. Multiple water plumes can be located at intervals along the trough to help each employee scrap and rinse ware. The water sluices down the trough into a disposer and circulates back into the trough.
With all of these scrapping solutions, be sure to specify recirculating systems, never fresh-water systems. Recirculating systems will save you tens of thousands of gallons of water each year while fresh-water systems send all of the water down the drain in a continuous flow.
Handling The Waste
What employees scrap plates into depends on how you want to handle waste. Scrapping everything directly into the trash means you’ll be making frequent trips to the dumpster with heavy trash containers. Putting food waste in the trash also invites pests and could require more frequent collection and higher tipping fees.
Disposers are great, but they’re not allowed by code in some locales, and they don’t handle everything on a plate, including some kinds of food waste. Most can’t handle bones (from steaks, chops or bone-in poultry), for example—although some can—and plastic straws are a disposer’s Kryptonite.
You can spec collectors where disposers aren’t allowed, but they have a few considerations, too. One is that they use some hot water. Although most of the water used is recirculated, they consume about 2 gpm of fresh water.
Pulpers can handle both food waste and trash, grinding up bones, fruit pits and plastic with ease. Coupled with an extractor to remove most of the water, a pulper can reduce the volume of your waste by up to 85%, meaning less in tipping fees. Small undercounter units now make pulping and extracting waste easy and available to restaurants, not just large institutions.
To be even more environmentally conscious, if your employees do a good job of separating trash from food waste, the pulper and extractor can be used to produce material ready for composting, either at your facility or bagged for curbside pickup by a waste-management or recycling firm.
Two other ways that large operations can reduce food waste are with dehydrators and digesters. Dehydrators heat and agitate food waste, speeding decomposition to somewhere between 18-24 hours in most cases. What’s left is a small amount of dry “soil amendment” that local haulers can take away.
Digesters use proprietary blends of natural minerals, nutrients and organic growth materials, naturally occurring microorganisms or microbes and enzymes along with oxygen to quickly break down and decompose food within 12-24 hours. The water discharge from these units is safe for sewers. Digesters are particularly useful in operations such as cruise ships, island resort hotels, casinos and other large, remotely located facilities.
For Your Consideration
Several factors besides peak volume will affect how you design and spec your dishroom, and you need to take them all into account to come up with the most effective design.
Local code will dictate what you can and can’t do. Disposers, for example, are allowed in much of the country, but are banned in some municipalities, particularly areas not on municipal sewer lines. Three-compartment sinks are required in addition to dishmachines in some locales; some places in Wisconsin, for example, require a 4-compartment sink—a 3-compartment sink with a pre-wash sink—in addition to a dishmachine. The “soil amendment” produced by dehydrators is okay some places, but not others, or it must be treated first. State regulations do not define dehydrated food waste any differently than unprocessed food waste; it’s considered a solid waste and must be handled as such. So, while you may have an overall design that works well in your operation, code concerns come first.
Company philosophy also will guide many decisions. Many of you are very focused on sustainability and want to make sure that every function within the operation contributes to overall environmental responsibility. Other companies are more operations driven and will look to sustainable solutions only where they make the most sense (financially) and choose what’s practical.
Operations and flow within your facilities may well dictate what’s possible and what isn’t. Again, the objective of your scrapping station—and your entire soiled-ware area—is making your dishmachine as effective and efficient as possible. How ware flows into and out of your dishroom affects how it’s handled and the dishroom layout.
Finally, budget plays a role in the layout you design and the equipment you select, as always. For example, if a tray accumulator will bust the budget in a B&I cafeteria, can the dishroom staff break down trays and stack soiled dishes on dollies until the meal rush is over before loading the dishmachine? It’s a less costly but effective alternative.
Dishrooms likely will always be hot, wet and uncomfortable and the most dangerous place in the kitchen next to the meat cutting/slicing area. But make them more efficient and productive by ensuring they’re not an afterthought. With a little consideration and the right amount of space, your dish washers will be scrap happy.