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What you need to know about setting up or upgrading your dishwashing system

By Connie Lannan

August 23, 2023

Photo courtesy of Hobart

If you are in the event rental industry and have glasses, dishes and flatware in your inventory, you know that an efficient dishwashing system is a must for your operation. There are so many different options. There’s the undercounter commercial dishwasher, the door-type system, rack conveyers and the flight-type systems for high-volume operations. But how do you determine what is the best system for you? What factors do you need to consider? How do you know when it is time to upgrade to a larger system?

Jerry Socha, marketing manager, commercial dishwashing, at Hobart in Troy, Ohio, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2022 and is part of Illinois Tool Works (ITW); Joey King, national sales representative for the German-based company Meiko, which has its United States operation in LaVergne, Tenn.; and Larry Green, owner, International Event Products, Stoughton, Mass., who represents the Meiko brand of dishwashers, suggest the following aspects need to be considered before choosing the best system for your operation.

Type of ware being washed. “If you are just washing a lot of plates, bowls and ceramic serving ware, that is one type of ware. But if you are doing a lot of prep ware like sheet pans and pots and pans, that can impact the dish machine options you should consider,” Socha says.

Volume of ware being washed. An operation that washes 30,000-plus dishes a year has very different requirements from an operation that washes 15,000 dishes a week or one that washes approximately 115,000 dishes a week during its busy season.

Plus, “how many days does it take you to wash your dishes?” King asks. “If you are washing seven days a week, you need a bigger system. Time and labor are money. If you can cut your washing to two to three days with a bigger machine, that is a huge savings. That machine will pay for itself in the first few years.”

Photo courtesy of Hobart

Green agrees. “It is all dependent on the size and volume of what they are doing with their warewashing — dishes, glasses, etc.,” he says, adding that when rental operators get to certain levels, they will need a larger system.

Environment in which the machine will be installed. “What utilities are available? What is your electrical service? What is your primary water heat source? All of this impacts the configuration of the machine,” Socha says.

For instance, “you have to make sure you have the right electrical in the building to ensure you have enough,” King says. “It can be quite expensive to add it to power the machine and control all the circuitry, the heaters in the machine, the power rinse booster, etc.”

“You have to make sure you have enough utilities,” Green says.

He speaks from experience. Green, who owned Rentals Unlimited, which merged with Peterson Party Center to form PEAK Event Services in Woburn, Mass., was associated with PEAK during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but has now stepped away. He purchased his first Meiko MiQ flight machine in 2012.

“When I had my rental operation, we needed a lot more electricity for the [flight] machine to run properly and safely. Enough utilities were the one thing that caught me off-guard,” he says.

Water and water quality. Water is essential. You need to have enough water lines to handle not only your dishwashing needs but also other water-consuming activities such as linen processing. So having enough water is imperative, according to Socha and King.

They also stress the importance of having good water quality to ensure your dishes get clean and save wear and tear on your equipment.

“Water hardness is measured in grains. We suggest three grains of water hardness or less for optimal performance,” Socha says. “You might have to add a water softener as water hardness is probably impacting other areas of your operation. It is a good best practice to understand the impact of water on any piece of equipment. Part of that is softening the water that is coming in, but regardless of your water hardness, there will be lime scale buildup on the machine. All commercial dishwashers have a deliming process. Most, especially in a flight type or rack conveyer, are usually deliming the machine once or twice a week.”

Photo courtesy of Hobart

HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system). “Also look at HVAC system requirements in the room,” Socha says. “With a ventless option, the dish machine is condensing the steam in the unit out before it exits the machine. This typically avoids the requirement for a vent hood on door types and prep washers, on rack conveyers and flight types. The ventless option can eliminate the need for direct venting, which can save the cost of expensive ductwork and may even avoid penetration to the roof in the facility. This saves a lot of money on installation. You do need to be aware of the HVAC requirements, though, since you are still putting heat into the room. Be sure to work with your HVAC engineer.”

“One thing is when you put a high-temp dish machine in a building, it will emit some steam,” King adds. “The Meiko MiQ flight machine has a 12-stage coil that helps absorb a lot of the energy and steam out of the machine so it doesn’t escape the machine. It requires a lot less venting. We typically vent under a hood. It might not be required for a hood if the unit is in a large warehouse with high ceilings. Rental operators need to be aware of what their local codes require. If a local code says it needs to be vented out of a building, you have to follow the codes of the city.”

Building layout. The big question is whether you have enough space for the type of dishwasher you need. Conveyer and even the high-end flight type dishwashing systems require a lot more space than an undercounter commercial unit. It is not just the machine but also the prep and offloading areas.

For instance, “our smallest flight machine is 18 ft. 9 in., and that doesn’t include any space for offloading or loading the dishes,” King says.

Available staff. “The worst mistake you can make is to go from a 44-in. rack conveyer system to the MiQ flight machine and have only two people to run the machine,” King says. “That won’t work very well because this machine can produce between 10,000 and 15,000 pieces an hour. Your two employees can’t keep up. They can’t load the belt fast enough, can’t take it off the belt and package it fast enough. So you have a machine that they have to run, stop, catch up, run and stop because your machine is faster than the actual staff you have on board. It is critical that they have the appropriate staff to work on the machine.”

Customizable options. Not every event rental operation has the same type of dishware or the same flow as far as when dishes come in and when they go through the dishwashing system. If you have food that has been sitting on dishes for a few days, that is much harder to get off as compared with items that are picked up on Saturday night and washed first thing Monday morning. So the question is, does the dishwashing system you are looking at have the capability to be customized with extra wash tanks and dryer blowers?

As King says, “if you are washing glass racks, the glasses will dry through the first blower dryer. The dish rack still holds the water in the sidewalls of the honeycombs of the rack. You pick it up and shake it and you will have all this water running on your glasses. With added blower dryers, it helps dry that rack faster. You can typically dry within three hours. With a single blower, it can take up to 12 or 14 hours before that rack dries completely before you can bag and store it.”

Chemicals. Chemicals are a big part of the dishwashing process. This is particularly true when you are using a low-temperature dishwashing system. These types of systems require a chemical sanitizer for the dishware. High-temperature dishwashers use high heat to sanitize the ware.

King, who has a background in chemicals, says rental operators need to watch the chemical titration so it is working effectively as opposed to just running down the drain. “When running an RO [reverse osmosis] system on the machine, the titration is very important so as not to damage or etch the glasses with too much detergent,” he says.

The bottom line. There are many aspects a rental operator needs to consider before implementing a dishwashing system or moving to a larger system to keep up with the volume of dishware being processed. King, Socha and Green all suggest rental operators visit other rental operations and venues to see what systems those businesses have and how they run their dishwashing processes. Have a dishwasher manufacturer representative come to your operation to evaluate your situation and see the particulars about your setup and exact needs. They can recommend the best setup for your current and future needs and walk you through the process. Dishwashing systems are a significant investment in your business. You want to make sure the decision you make will best serve your operation.