Most hospitality-related fields, ranging from fine dining establishments to school cafeterias utilize warewash technology, a very select type of dishwashing system. Warewash uses high temperatures (more than 160 degrees) and high water velocity to clean dishes faster than normal dishwashing.

Warewash can be a very economical way to clean dishes and utensils, making the days of the dishwasher at the local restaurant a thing of the past. Machines typically cost between $2,200 and $10,000, but users recoup their initial investment fairly quickly considering the large capacity of dishes and the amount of loads each machine can handle during its lifespan.

Many warewash purchases are driven by price.

“Your top-end dining establishments are going to be the ones who are going to go with your higher end detergents. Most everyone else is looking to wash as cheaply and effectively as possible,” says John Slater, president of Performance Chemical and Supply Inc., in Richton Park, Ill.

While cost is the most important factor in many situations, users cannot get too caught up in the bottom line. Performance cannot be sacrificed, because if dishes emerge from the machine still dirty, it can be unsightly at best, unhealthy at worse.

If dishes are not clean after a single wash, managers should make sure to pre-soak heavily coated items to help the process along. If they use weak chemicals or overload the units, warewash systems cannot properly complete their tasks — and multiple washes for the same items can add up quickly.

“The most important question you have to answer is, are the dishes being cleaned properly and thoroughly? If you have to run loads through twice, then are you really saving money with a cheaper detergent?” says Slater.

Detergent options
Choosing a detergent is probably the most important decision you will face as a warewash consumer. There are two types of detergent — liquids and solids. Many experts prefer solids.

“The cost of liquid detergent versus a solid detergent that comes in a capsule is negligible. Solid capsules are more economical because 100 percent of the product is making it out of the package and into the machine,” says Reeves.

On average, a worthy detergent should cost between three to four cents per rack, per load.

But cost is not the only factor: Solid detergents also are safer because there is no ‘free pouring’ of the product, leading to added waste. The risk of employees splashing chemicals on their skin or in their faces is lower with solids. An environmental appeal with solid detergents is packaging. Solids often come in cartridge form, in recyclable containers, says Kevin Gavre, vice president of Palmer Co., a supplier in Waukesha, Wis.

Safety considerations
In addition to choosing an effective system that meets their needs, managers also must ensure their machines meet external requirements. Warewash systems are regulated under state and federal standards for kitchen machinery, requiring all managers and employees to fully understand proper maintenance and operation procedures and take necessary safety precautions.

For example, because these systems use highly concentrated chemicals and high water temperatures, all areas having warewash equipment must have eye flush and first aid stations nearby.

Also, warewash systems will not run unless their doors are securely fastened, but employees must understand how to reduce risks by opening doors only when appropriate. Hot temperatures will not dissipate immediately after a cycle is complete, leaving dangerous steam that could harm employees.

To reduce injury and equipment misuse, take advantage of training courses offered by the manufacturer or distributor, suggests says Jerry Reeves, sales manager at Resort Services Inc., in Blufton, S.C.

“Most companies offer training in the use of their products — take advantage of that, “Reeves says. “It is very important that all employees involved have proper training. This will not only make the use of the product more efficient and save money, but it will also address any safety and environmental issues as well.”

If the manufacturer or distributor doesn’t readily offer training, ask for it, Reeves advises. They should have information available that can be very educational for employees using the equipment

Trends for the future
Some suppliers say the future holds many changes for warewash technology.

“On the horizon I see the development of improved formulas for detergent and improved dispenser technology, and in 10 to 15 years, I think we will see the last of the liquid and powder-style detergents,” says Gavre.

Others see the use of warewash changing.

“Dispensing systems may change a little, but that may be about it for the washing systems themselves. The real advances are coming in the areas of data management: Plug your laptop into your warewash system, and you’ll be able to have access to tons of information,” says Slater.

These systems will allow users to track capacity, capacity used, dishes done per load, and dishes done per hour.

Managers can track operator efficiency issues as well: Was the machine at full capacity when it was used? How long did it take to load? These factors all lead to better, more cost-effective use of the warewash system.

D.M. Maas is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.

Maintenance Tip
While a good detergent may be able to remove caked-on food from dishes, it may not help break down the particles enough to completely remove them. That means, over time, food particles can build up in the machine, requiring additional maintenance. Jerry Reeves, of Resort Services Inc., Blufton, S.C., suggests using enzymes — microscopic organisms that digest and break down organic waste — in addition to detergent. Enzymes can help in pre-wash situations to remove residue from dishes, and they also can help prevent build-up in grease pits and garbage areas.