H2O Care: Water Filtration Systems
Turn off the pipes, and watch everything in your foodservice operation grind to a halt. Water is used everywhere: it’s pumped into steamers and combi ovens, coffee makers, fountain dispensers, and ice machines; is the base for your broth; and cleans your food, hands and dishware. Although your water may look clean, it actually contains things that can affect the quality of your food and drink, cause expensive damage to equipment, and potentially harm customers’ health.
While finding the right water filtration system for your operation can be complicated considering the endless options available, it all comes down to a basic equation. On one hand you have a certain water quality being piped to your location from your municipality. On the other hand, the equipment in your kitchen requires a certain water quality to prevent damage and deliver optimal and consistent results. You need to find a water filtration system that closes the gap between the water quality you have and the water quality you want.
Test The Water
Your first step is to find out what’s in the water running through your city’s pipes. You can request your municipality’s annual water quality report that includes high and low range of contaminant variations throughout the year. Or, for a more current snapshot, you could have a third party test your water. Some water filtration companies even offer a free water test as part of their service.
Typically, water is tested on its levels of five types of contaminants. Particulates such as dirt, sediment, silt, and rust can make water appear cloudy. Total dissolved solids, the total amount of minerals dissolved in the water, includes chlorides, sulfate, iron, silica, and sodium, which can increase the likelihood of scale build-up and cause spots on dishware. Water also can contain volatile organic compounds that affect taste and smell. Municipalities also add chlorine and chloramines to water to kill microorganisms and make it safe to drink, but those chemicals can affect both taste and equipment. Finally, even with the water treated, water may still contain pathogens—cysts, bacteria and viruses— that could be harmful to health.
Find Your Standard
With the first part of the equation solved—discovering your location’s water quality—it’s time to assess the needs of your foodservice operation. To start, list all your water-using equipment and products. You can install one type of water filtration system at point-of-entry, meaning that all equipment and products will use the same water quality.
Typically, establishments start with a point-of-entry system to filter out sediments and chemicals that are undesired in any equipment or product. Then they install multiple point-of-use filters at various pieces of equipment to deliver specific water quality. For instance, ice makers and coffee makers require additional TDS treatment that protects against scale build-up, yet scale-inhibiting filters can make water taste off when used in fountain dispensers.
Meanwhile steamers and combi ovens also have specific tolerances for scaling minerals and corrosive salts that could corrode equipment, including sensors. Specifically, untreated water can have anywhere from five to 10 times the levels of TDS, hardness, and chloride than the optimal levels outlined by most combi oven manufacturers. In this case, a point-of-use filter with reverse osmosis technology will purify water by forcing it under pressure through a membrane while flushing contaminants away to drain, removing virtually all TDS that can cause damage to steam-generating equipment.
Beyond preventing scale, there also are water quality standards for coffee, tea, espresso and fountain beverages specific to each industry so filtration technologies will vary. For example, the Specialty Coffee Association of America has determined a target TDS of 150 mg/l to produce an optimal-tasting cup of coffee.
You’ll also want to consider the primary filter system’s rated capacity, which should be greater than the total amount of water that will be used by all water-using equipment it feeds between filter changes, as well at the filter capacity at each point-of-use filter.
The filter system’s flow rate also should be greater than the peak flow requirement of the equipment, or series of equipment, it serves. For example, a c-store with multiple beverage stations, ice machines and coffee stations will need a higher-volume filtration system than a small restaurant with only one ice machine.
Lastly, make sure you choose filters tested and certified by a third-party lab, such as NSF.
Change Is Good
As with any equipment specification, you’ll need to factor in the lifecycle costs of service and management of your water filtration system. Based on your location’s water quality and your volume of use, you’ll need to decide how frequently the filters will need to be changed, the cost for each replacement cartridge and who will manage and perform the changes.
As filter management is often a pain point for operators, some water filtration companies offer quick-change-style filter cartridges that can be switched fast and easily without the need for tools. Other companies are experimenting with the Internet-of-things to connect filters to an alert system to signal when the cartridges are about to reach capacity. Until that technology becomes more mainstream, manufacturers agree that operators should find a way to schedule their own change-filter reminders because the filters themselves, usually located out of sight, are often out of mind, too.
More municipalities are using chloramine over chlorine to disinfect the water supply. Chloramine can affect the taste of products, particularly in clear sodas, where it can react with sweeteners causing an ammonia-like taste and odor as well as affect carbonation. It also can damage equipment, particularly in espresso machines and combi ovens where it pits the stainless interior.
Many water filtration companies suggest you start filtering for chloramine in your kitchen even if it’s not currently present in your water because it could be introduced at any time. To filter for both chloramine and chlorine, you’ll need to install high-grade carbon filters with slower flow rates to give water more contact time with the filter. While these cartridges are more expensive, keep in mind that poor quality feed water will actually void the warranty on some equipment, so spending a few hundred dollars on the right filter system could save you several thousand dollars or more down the road.
Reach For The Gold
Justin Thompson, CFSP, CPMR, The YES Group, Mendota Heights, Minn., presented the five steps to reach a gold standard in water filtration during FER’s Multiunit Foodservice Equipment Symposium in January 2018. The five steps are as follows:
1. Make a comprehensive and exhaustive list of each piece of equipment and consumable product that uses water in your establishment. “Operators know immediately when poor water quality causes equipment to fail,” says Thompson, “but they might miss the fact that poor water quality affects the taste of the beverages they’re serving customers, too.”
2. Review your water quality report and talk with the manufacturers of your equipment to identify potential issues that unmanaged water quality could create for equipment and product. More and more companies are including target water quality levels with their manuals, particularly those that make combi ovens as they have unique water requirements.
3. Create your gold standard and establish technologies to use to reach your goal. Beyond preventing problems, think about the optimal water for that perfect product whether it’s ice, coffee, etc. “Each product is going to have a different specification as far as water goes. I would put a table together that lists that one appliance can take X amount of hardness, but another can’t. Start grouping things together.” You may be able to use one filtration system for multiple pieces with similar water quality needs.
4. Determine who will properly maintain treatment. A common mistake is choosing the right filtration system but having no plans about maintaining it. Have a plan for who changes the filters and how often.
5. Commit to success. You want to make sure that everybody has bought into achieving the gold standard. “For instance, if there’s a boil water advisory, what is your protocol? Or if your filters are no longer effective, will you bypass them to keep the restaurant up and running? Or are you so committed to consistent quality that you shut down your beverages?”
Click to the following page for the Water Filtration Gallery.