Maintenance: It’s Cool To Care About Soda Fountains

Not keeping up on soda fountain maintenance could be the last straw, but a little attention can mean a lot.

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Missteps in nozzle cleaning can harm the taste and appearance of your beverages.

It’s not every day that service technician Robert DePue has to go under a customer’s building to clean up a tarpit-like pool of soda syrup—but there was that one day.

While working as a tech for a beverage company, DePue became suspicious at the frequency through which a state park food court in Denali, Alaska, was running through a certain syrup.

“I’m like ‘It’s a good flavor, but it’s not that good; something’s odd here,’” he recalls. “I started looking, and I found the trail of syrup going down the back of the [beverage dispenser’s] line.”

Wasted syrup and sticky situation aside, the damage wasn’t so bad. The cause was a bad O-ring where the line connected to the pump, and, based on the amount of product that leaked, DePue estimated it had probably been going on for a couple months.

“O-rings go bad over time a lot of times, and these pumps get changed out,” he says. “Typically, I have seen these pumps last four or five years. I’ve seen issues on them much sooner than that, too, but I mean, they’re plastic; the housing on them and everything’s plastic. They give out.”

In this case, he says, a likely contributor to wear and tear was that this particular machine would have undergone some added duress: winter downtime in an unattended building that can reach -50°F.

Having since left Alaska for a warmer climate, DePue—now working as a technician at Sam Service’s office in Suwanee, Ga.—offers more hot tips on soda fountain maintenance:

SODA WATER ISN’T GOING TO CUT IT. One misconception that persists is in regard to the proper cleaning protocols for soda fountain nozzles. While most operators know they need to remove the nozzles for daily cleaning, some fall short by relying on a soda water soak. “That’s just CO2 in water; you’re not actually cleaning anything,” DePue clarifies. Rather, he recommends soaking the nozzles in hot water (though not too hot that you can’t put your hands in it) mixed with food-equipment safe sanitizer, and then scrubbing each nozzle with a toothbrush or similar tool.

DON’T FORGET ADJACENT EQUIPMENT. Sweet as it tastes and sounds, sweet tea, which is often kept in a standalone machine, is one to watch. DePue says he’s seen operators maintain their main soda machine(s) pretty well but forget about the sweet tea unit, which in many fast-food settings also runs on a syrup line. Follow the same cleaning protocols as mentioned above to keep beverage quality up. Also, mind ice machine maintenance, as it can impact your soda fountain, too. “If your ice machine goes down, then your soda machine pretty much is at a standstill too, because the syrup lines in the soda machine require chilling by the ice machine,” DePue explains. “So, if you don’t have your lines chilled, your product is not going to taste right, and a lot of times it leads to customers being upset.” A planned maintenance cleaning on an ice machine may mean four or five hours of downtime. More in-depth ice machine fixes—almost always triggered by a lack of cleaning, DePue says—might be a new float switch (about $50, plus downtime for ordering the part), or a new water pump motor, which runs around $1,200.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR LEAKS. A busy soda fountain, possibly in the front-of-house, can be subject to rough use that can crack an individual valve’s housing. If you see soda leaking between dispensing, it may be time for a replacement. “If the housing in [the valve] is broken, you can take it apart and start replacing it [for about $200], but with the age of that valve, a lot of times it’s more economical to just put a whole new valve on,” says DePue, noting a new valve costs about $300.

Take time to properly maintain your soda fountain, with an emphasis on cleanliness, to sidestep downtime and continue quenching customers’ thirst for a chilled, quality drink.


Halton CreditMelissaHom

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