New research shows that almost 60% of professional chefs consider their understanding of water treatment to be poor or average, exposing a serious knowledge gap that could be hugely detrimental to an operator’s bottom line. With that in mind, Foodservice Equipment Journal, in association with BRITA Professional, got together with leading chefs and industry experts to discuss the impact that water treatment has on core equipment such as combination ovens and establish what can be done to ensure that those behind the pass take greater ownership of the issue.
On the panel
– Steve Buckmaster, Business Account Manager, BRITA Professional
– Andrew Green, CEO, The Craft Guild of Chefs
– Chris Knights, Executive Chef, Young & Co.’s Brewery
– Hayden Groves, Executive Chef, BaxterStorey
– Peter Woods, Chef Consultant
– Radford Chancellor, Director, Radford Chancellor Ltd
– Derek Maher, CEDA Technical Steering Group member & Managing Director, Crystaltech
Research conducted by BRITA Professional and The Craft Guild of Chefs reveals that 63% of chef’s don’t know that untreated water can cause a combi oven to break down, while a third of those who know that a combi ovens needs to be installed with a water treatment system don’t understand why. How are you managing water treatment in your own environments?
Hayden Groves: We are fortunate that we have a maintenance company that looks after our combi ovens and so the changing of the filters is something that just happens. But we are very aware that it is one thing having a water filter, it’s another thing managing it. When does it run out? Are the cables twisted? Does the combi need to be on all the time even if nothing is going into it until service? And water treatment is not just important to us from a combi perspective, but warewashing too. If your pipes start furring up, you lose the quality of the clean and you start using more chemicals.
Chris Knights: We are much the same. We have a maintenance contract and it works on a cycle. But I think chefs are quite unaware of it — it’s probably more of a manager/head chef scenario. The chef, commis chef, demi chef, they may not be very aware of what’s going on or why it is there. Often there is a central agreement in place, particularly if you are talking about a lot of sites, and it might be the responsibility of the property team. It is not something that is being regularly brought to the attention of the chefs.
Peter Woods: Where I’ve worked I can’t say it was on that list of priorities. There would be a maintenance contract and when the engineer came out people might mention that it’s probably a water filter issue but they would then leave them to look around. But if you are aware of actually how the machine is used and what it is used for, and the right questions are being asked, you can get people looking at these problems before they actually arise.
Hayden Groves: And from a foodservice perspective, the chefs don’t own those ovens, they get to use them. It is like renting a car — yes, the client or the client team can say that a maintenance contract is expensive and costs need to be cut, but it is your pieces of equipment that it affects. If you don’t service your car regularly then it is not going to work. The same is true with your water filters or water treatment. If you don’t get them done then you’re going to start furring up the pipes and getting a poor quality end-result.
Andrew Green: Hayden’s point about money is really prominent because in smaller places — perhaps more so than the larger chains — it can be easy for people to cut costs by forgetting about the water filter. They think ‘we’ll change it in another six months’ and actually what tends to happen is that it gets changed when the equipment breaks down. And that is a false economy because you then have to pay for increased maintenance and servicing, whereas if you spend money at the very beginning on the right equipment, and you service it and maintain it in the right way, you’ll have a better product coming out of it and an improved saving over the longer term.
Chris Knights: So you are saying that a lot of people are just unaware of the cost implications associated with failing to manage water treatment properly?
Andrew Green: Absolutely. And I think your point is right: there is a certain level of employee — maybe the GM or head chef — who is aware of the consequences of what they are doing but for others that might not be the case.
Peter Woods: For them, water treatment is just there, isn’t it? They go about their normal job, they use the oven in a normal way and it’s only when it breaks down that they realise why it is there. The engineer comes out, he’ll say the water filter’s empty and this is what happens, and it is only then they become aware of it and start to know what to do or look out for in the future.
Derek Maher: Ownership of the issue also varies by operator. If you take the big supermarkets, you will have maintenance looking after the kitchen equipment and estates looking after the water treatment. It is a completely different arrangement.
How often should a filter be replaced, and what determines the replacement cycle?
Andrew Green: The frequency depends upon the usage. If there are long periods when it is not being used, it will extend the cycle. If you have got the combi on for 18 hours a day the longevity will be affected. It is to do with actual usage rather than calendar dates.
Steve Buckmaster: The size of the unit will also affect it, as well as local water conditions. In Scotland, Wales and the South West, the water is softer so the unit would last longer.
Radford Chancellor: One of the things I’ve seen is that the filters are put in and then not registered. I had a site recently where they had a new combi on a project and they rang up after two weeks and said, ‘there is a filter behind the combi, but it is not connected to anything’. It was just sat there.
Andrew Green: There is an awareness and level of education that is missing. It needs to be understood, through training, that you need these systems to get the best out of the kit. Plus it is better environmentally and financially, so there are lots of other benefits attached to it.
Steve Buckmaster: I see HACCP, food safety, health and safety — boxes need to be ticked all over the kitchen to meet standards and yet water filtration isn’t included in any of those. It never gets into that process because you are not going to kill anybody at the end of the day, but it is going to hurt your machine and your business. In the coffee world they are starting to look at it differently. Coffee shops now build water treatment into their checklists and processes, but in the kitchen world it is not there unless somebody either builds it into an outsourced service, where it is in a schedule, or they create one themselves. And when you are creating cleaning and maintenance schedules for kitchens, water filtration is probably not on that list, which is why it gets forgotten.
Derek Maher: That is the trouble though, if you are outsourcing the service then it is going to be programmed in. If you’re having to do it internally then often the systems fall over. Nobody will remember to put salt into a regenerated softener.
Chris Knights: I don’t think enough training happens — but it should! We spend a lot of money on our kitchens every year — in excess of £1m on refurbs through our kitchens — and yet until this kind of conversation came up it is not something that I was fully versed on. I know that it gets serviced through our maintenance department but it certainly isn’t part of our kitchen induction and training programme.
What can be done to make chefs aware that a water filter might need replacing?
Derek Maher: On warewashing, there are facilities on some equipment warning you that you need to put salt in the machine. Those systems are available but they haven’t moved over to combi ovens.
Steve Buckmaster: Technology in some areas is really moving forward and with BRITA we have built in a digital display on the filter, which indicates when the cartridge needs replacing. Sometimes the filters are hidden behind a combi oven or under a cupboard, so people have to go and look for it. Some combi manufacturers are now looking into ways to inform the chef that a filter cartridge needs replacing by connecting the BRITA display to the combi display.
Peter Woods: The display saying that you need to change it is good but you want it to be really prominent. It is like the fridge temperature, you have got to be able to see it all year around so you know what’s happening — either visually or with an annoying sound.
Hayden Groves: A little audible noise or annoying sound indicating it needs to be replaced would get people’s attention. Obviously it could still get ignored but if it is actually alerting you that it needs salt, or the cylinder needs changing, it can’t do any more than that.
Chris Knights: The most appropriate solution would be for it to shut down your service cycle so that you can’t operate it until it is changed. That would educate people!
Andrew Green: That would probably never happen but, yes, you do almost need that kit to shut down because if it isn’t attended to then it will shut down two or three months later anyway because the equipment will be broken!
Steve Buckmaster: Exactly. Servicing water treatment is not like a torch. If a battery runs out on a torch, it doesn’t work anymore and you have to get a new battery if you want to use it. If water treatment fails, or runs out, the equipment will still work, but it will eventually break down — probably on a Bank Holiday or a busy Friday night!
Hayden Groves: The education has got to go up the line as well, to the guys at the top. They need to see that they are going to have better-looking spreadsheets if they make the investment because the [equipment failure] figures are going to drop.
Chris Knights: It is interesting that you mention the number crunchers stripping things out, but is there something wrong in the organisation when they are not being educated upon what’s needed in the kitchen? We have taken the approach of saying, ‘this is what we need to spend each time and, yes, we can save money if we need to, but if you want us to produce X amount of food every week here are the reasons why we need to do those things.’ We are in a position now where I have control of the design and the budget, but if you go into, say, a large chain restaurant where a finance director is looking at a spreadsheet, they will probably be saying, ‘well, you don’t need that’ and ‘I am going to take this off’. I wouldn’t say there is one set standard across any part of the industry, it is understanding in each business who is taking the water treatment out or who is not being educated upon how important it is and what benefits it will bring.
Radford Chancellor: Often what I see is that we spend ages with the chefs and stakeholders getting down to a beautiful design that everybody is happy with and then it goes off to the main contractor and they start stripping out things like the filters, or they downgrade the combi ovens, and then what ends up being installed is nothing remotely like what we all agreed on. That is an issue because people just see water treatment as a cost. They don’t understand it, and they try and take it out of the project.
Steve Buckmaster: In my experience, not too many people will look at what was a scale-related issue and what was just a general maintenance issue, so you have this big million pound budget that is spent on maintenance and scale is in there. Now, we think — and most people agree — that 75% of call-outs are related to water treatment and something that has scaled up. So what we are saying is, ‘do you realise that if you invested X in this, you could save Y and your maintenance budget would be reduced by V’. If you have a call-out it is going to cost you money, if you have a repair it is going to cost you money, if you break down your service you will lose your business and your customers, and your staff morale will drop. So there is a whole bunch of reasons why you should look after your water treatment.
Better operator practices can add years of life to catering equipment and ensure that it runs to its optimal level. How much of an issue is this where water treatment is concerned?
Peter Woods: It is certainly a challenge and there does need to be greater education for chefs in terms of the amount of time that a piece of equipment is on and when it is actually being used.
Steve Buckmaster: This is where you get onto the consequences of not using water treatment. People think of it as a cost but it is preventative maintenance at the end of the day, because you are preventing it failing. If you don’t have a service company looking after the water treatment then that is where you have got to get the education piece right because the onus is on the chef’s team to really make sure it happens. So, the first training requirement is about getting the water treatment in place and looking after it, and the second requirement is managing it once it is in.
Radford Chancellor: A lot of people possibly don’t understand the issues of water in this country. They might see scale on an appliance but they don’t really think about it too much, until two or three months down the line they suddenly say, ‘why aren’t we using a filter?’ Some operators will know they need to use water treatment, but they might not know the knock-on effect if they don’t, which is failure of service and warranties becoming invalid. Most of the combi manufacturers have got a little caveat in their warranties stating that they won’t cover breakdowns caused by scale.
Derek Maher: I think that for every millimetre of scale, the appliance uses about 17% more power, so you then have the knock-on effect of that element burning out. An element can cost a few hundred pounds, so the expense really mounts up.
Steve Buckmaster: At the end of the day, the ideal scenario would be to turn the combi on and see from the fascia whether the filter needs replacing. Coffee machines do it — they count the number of cups that have been dispensed and after a while the operator will set an alert up based on the size of the filter and the water hardness. After, say, 60,000 cups, you will need to change your filter, and the coffee machine will flash.
Chris Knights: That is exactly the thing that should be done for a combi oven, it’s so simple. Apps and all those things are great technology, but they are over-complicating things. If it says on the combi oven that you’ve got three or four hours left until you need to change your water filter then you can see it there and then and you’ve been given advance warning.
Radford Chancellor: But in reality, that would mean water treatment manufacturers tying up with oven manufacturers, and are they going to allow access to communication from the software to their oven?
Andrew Green: This is where you would need to do it as a collective. After all, the equipment manufacturers should surely want the same goal rather than the prospect of their machines breaking down. You would want water treatment and equipment manufacturers to be in tandem.
Steve Buckmaster: I think, in summary, this discussion has highlighted that water plays a big part in what goes through the equipment and if you maintain it after it is installed you won’t have any problems and your service will always continue. It’s about the people who are buying it understanding what the effect could be to their business five, six or seven years into the future, and then once it is installed educating the chefs and making sure that knowledge gap is filled so that they use it correctly and their catering environment runs successfully.
Chefs and water treatment
59% of professional chefs in the UK consider their knowledge of water treatment to be poor or average.
70% of chefs are unaware that combi oven manufacturer warranties won’t cover breakdowns caused by limescale.
59% of chefs aren’t aware that water filters need changing regularly.
63% of chefs don’t know that untreated water can cause a combi oven to break down.
68% of chefs know that a combi oven needs to be installed with a water treatment system, but 34% don’t know why.
49% of chefs are unaware that untreated water can affect the overall functionality of a combi oven.
45% of chefs don’t think that water filtration needs to be part of their regular housekeeping programme.
Source: The Craft Guild of Chefs and BRITA Professional survey, July 2016
Experts in filtration, BRITA Professional is committed to making it easy for operators to look after their water so that it enhances the consumer experience and protects their equipment. For more information on BRITA Professional call 0844 742 4940, visit www.brita.co.uk/professional or follow @BRITAPRO