Combi ovens are an essential bit of kit for many kitchens — and integrated and highly functional cleaning programs make it a whole lot easier to keep the equipment in good working condition. But is it enough just to run a cleaning program at the end of service and expect the oven to last its full lifecycle? Or is there more that operators can do to ensure their investment remains in the best condition for as long as possible? FEJ reports.
Combination ovens are a workhorse appliance for lots of kitchen operators that rely on them to produce large quantities of food from morning till night.
But like any piece of machinery, they need to be looked after properly to ensure they operate correctly and don’t fail when they are most needed.
With cleaning regarded as such an important element of the maintenance procedure, manufacturers are working hard to make the process as autonomous and straightforward as possible. Most suppliers generally advocate a daily cleaning regime at the end of service, but in truth the frequency will depend on the usage and the type of food being cooked.
The heavier the use, the more it will need cleaning. Similarly, an operator roasting meat in the appliance will need to clean it more frequently than if it was predominantly using it to steam vegetables, for instance.
Cooking manufacturer Baron has both simple and fully automated self-clean systems built into its combi ovens.
The simple system is a manual wash cycle which can be used at any time and the automatic system is a pre-programmed washing cycle that includes rinse, single wash, double wash and a full four-stage wash and rinse. Cycles run from four minutes to 80 minutes depending on the severity of the oven cleanliness.
“We suggest that in order to keep the oven in good condition and to avoid smells transfer — fish then meat, for example — the rinse cycle should be used frequently during the day and the more heavy duty cleaning be carried out during downtime and at close of play,” says Roger Flanagan, chairman of Universal Foodservice Equipment, which imports Baron in the UK.
Wendy Cunningham, sales manager at Middleby UK, advises operators to clean their oven once a day, but stresses that the intensity of the cleaning cycle is likely to be determined by what they use the oven for. “As we use liquid rinse aid and detergent and also use a filter system, the process is fully automatic with just the press of a button,” she says. “There is no need to add chemicals manually.”
No one enjoys the prospect of cleaning, particularly when it comes to ovens, so opting for a self-cleaning model will ensure that sensors and components are able to function correctly and perform throughout their lifespan, says Gary Nunn, managing director of Unox.
Its Cheftop Mind.Map Plus range is equipped with SENSE.Klean technology which estimates the degree of dirt based on previous cooking programmes and suggests the best automatic cleaning mode according to actual use.
“This feature guarantees maximum hygiene and avoids wasting water and detergent,” he says. “The wash system can also be scheduled using the calendar function built into the oven control. If a chef sets the oven to wash at the start of the day, for example, then whilst the kit is drying and using electricity, it is also partially pre-heating ready for cooking, thus saving energy.”
Convotherm maker Welbilt suggests caterers should be giving their combi ovens a daily light clean and a weekly deep clean as an absolute minimum to ensure high hygiene and maintenance levels are maintained.
However, due to time constraints and a lack of knowledge or training, it accepts that many caterers may struggle to keep up with these frequent cleaning tasks. It is for this reason that it developed ConvoClean, an automatic cleaning system that minimises the difficulty, risk and time-consuming nature of cleaning an oven by hand.
As well as cleaning the exterior of your combi oven and the door gasket with a soft, damp cloth and liquid detergent, we would recommend a regular check to ensure the interior wash arm is free from food debris”
“ConvoClean not only ensures the very best hygienic standards are met with the combi oven, but it also removes the risk associated with staff coming into direct contact with harmful chemicals,” explains UK sales director Steve Hemsil.
“Thanks to its automated design it is fully certified for unattended cleaning. This means there is no need for an operator to wait for the cleaning cycle to finish before going home.” With four selectable cleaning levels available, the ConvoClean system aims to cater for every usage profile, from light to heavy use, and also features a steam disinfection cycle to further enhance the cleaning process, says Hemsil.
Rational, meanwhile, uses an automatic cleaning system called ‘Efficient CareControl’ within its steamers. The highly automated system will decide when it’s time to clean the combi oven, and what intensity of cleaning is required.
“CareControl will then recommend the right amount of cleaning chemicals to be used — this minimises their consumption while ensuring the oven is hygienically clean,” explains technical sales director Graham Kille.
“CareControl is very simple to use — staff simply pop the cleaning tablets in, shut the door and touch the button on the screen. They can also select a fast wash program. At the end of the shift, the system can be left to run automatically overnight, further helping to save staff time.”
Manufacturers say there are additional things that operators can do to enhance the overall cleaning process beyond running the standard wash program.
An occasional wipe down of the shelf runners with a cloth can be a simple means of getting rid of any debris, according to Middleby’s Cunningham, while Universal’s Flanagan says that regular cleaning and rinsing during the day will also help the overall effort, even if it won’t necessarily get rid of debris such as kitchen foil, heavy food waste and baked-on carbonisation.
Paul Hickman, development chef at Lincat, advises: “As well as cleaning the exterior of your combi oven and the door gasket with a soft, damp cloth and liquid detergent, we would recommend a regular check to ensure the interior wash arm is free from food debris.
In addition, the air filter must be cleaned on a weekly basis. This can be manually cleaned or for ease put in the dishwasher.”
Stuart Flint, training and demonstration manager at Electrolux, notes the importance of ensuring that individual parts which aren’t covered by the automated cleaning cycle are regularly cleaned and maintained.
“Door seals, for example, should be cleaned thoroughly with soapy water, as this will help to preserve their lifespan,” he counsels. “In cases where water treatment is connected to the oven, it is important to ensure these areas are maintained correctly. This process differs depending on the model, and operators should consult the manual for the individual product in these instances.”
Water treatment is a factor that Rational’s Kille also advises operators to pay appropriate attention to. “Combi ovens are incredibly versatile but, like any equipment that uses water, they need a water treatment system and regular descaling. Rational’s Efficient CareControl incorporates a water softening system and descaler, removing the need for external water treatment equipment and minimising the time-consuming chore of descaling,” he says.
So what are the biggest misconceptions within the market when it comes to cleaning and maintaining combi ovens?
All manufacturers agree that trying to cut costs by not using the recommended amount of cleaning tablets can have an effect on performance and lead to unnecessary service call-outs. It can also result in the unit using more energy than necessary.
According to Welbilt’s Hemsil, two of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to cleaning a combi oven are the length of time it takes to carry out the process and accepting the risk that operators have no option but to come into contact with harmful chemicals during the process.
“ConvoClean has been designed specifically to eliminate both misconceptions, firstly by using innovative technology to create a fully automatic cycle, which once started can simply be left to complete, whether overnight or while the operator continues with other kitchen duties.
“Overcoming the need for contact with chemicals, Convotherm has developed a system whereby the chemicals containers are located externally of the oven, connected by a hose which automatically takes the correct dosage for the specific cycle selected without the need for any operator intervention.
A cheaper — and inevitably weaker chemical — will need a higher quantity to achieve the desired results and will therefore cost more in the long run”
“Not only does this significantly increase safety standards, but also helps to ensure the right amount of chemical is used at all times,” he says.
Nunn at Unox points out that the washing programs set into each manufacturer’s equipment are based on logical calculations of time, dosage of chemical, quantity of water and the actual recipe of the chemical. These are designed to give an optimum result from the desired wash.
“This cannot be replicated by simply changing the chemical for a perceived cheaper alternative. A cheaper — and inevitably weaker chemical — will need a higher quantity to achieve the desired results and will therefore cost more in the long run.”
Ultimately, operators need to remember that automatic washing programs are only part of the answer to maintaining combi ovens, not the whole solution. The key is following the instructions and training procedures to increase the oven’s performance, while recognising that cleaning fan debris or carbonised food after each cycle is good practice. “A combi oven isn’t a ‘dishwasher that cooks’ as some people think!” concludes Universal’s Flanagan.