When you need it most, will your ice maker be able to supply your restaurant with all its ice needs? Here are the details you must know to buy the right equipment.
Clean, clear ice and plenty of it are what every restaurateur wants for his or her establishment. To accomplish this goal, you must have the right ice maker for your operation. Here are some tips to help you choose.
There are two basic types of ice made by two types of machine processes. The classic type is cube ice. Cube ice is clear and appealing for beverages. Flake ice is the other main ice type, but it tends to water down drinks too much. A newer, better drink ice is sometimes called nugget ice. This ice is most similar to compressed flaked ice formed into small cylinders. This ice is not as crystal clear as cube, but is hard and slower to melt than flaked ice.
The process to make nugget ice uses less water and significantly less electricity than producing cubes. The nugget machines are also a bit more compact and require less maintenance. You may not want to use nugget ice for bars, but it can be quite acceptable for just about everything else.
One reason to choose one type of ice over another is its melting characteristics. Surface area and melting are what it's all about. A cube tends to melt slower than flaked ice because it has less surface area and there is no water trapped inside like flake ice. Flake ice, however, does have an important place in the back-of-house operation of a kitchen. Because it melts quickly, flaked ice transfers heat and chills product quickly. Flake ice is what you need to hold items like fresh seafood and chickens or for rapid chilling tasks. Nugget ice generally melts slower than flaked ice, but quicker than cubes. This melting characteristic makes the nuggets good for keeping soft drinks cold.
Be aware that some of the production claims by manufacturers can be misleading if you don't know what to look for. First, when production amounts are quoted they are always in pounds of ice produced in 24 hours. Be careful to note that many manufacturers' ice making amounts are based on a 50°F water temperature and 70°F air temperature at the ice maker. These temperatures are often unrealistic since in many areas the incoming water temperature exceeds 50°F, especially in the summer when ice needs are greatest and the air temperature in the restaurant kitchen is often higher than 70°F.
Exceeding these design temperatures causes the machine's production capacity to decrease and often when you need ice most. The best way to avoid running out of ice on your hottest peak use days is to buy enough ice capacity from the start. You want to buy ice and storage capacity for your peak periods, not just your average demand.
When choosing a size for your ice maker, be sure to take into account the air and water. As a rule of thumb, a 10°F air temperature increase may reduce daily ice production by 10 percent when using an air-cooled machine. In addition the higher room temperature will melt ice in the bin quicker, requiring more ice-making capacity to replenish and fill the bin. The use of water-cooled ice makers, especially for larger machines, can reduce the amount of heat the ice maker itself adds to the kitchen. The amount of heat generated by air-cooled machines is significant, especially if located in a small confined area or a kitchen you're trying to air-condition for the comfort of the staff.
The choice of an air-cooled or water-cooled machine is an important one. Ice makers use either air or water to cool their refrigeration compressor and condenser system. Each has advantages. The air-cooled condenser is cost effective and involves no added water costs. Water-cooled machines must be on a closed-loop system, meaning you are not supplying water that is being dumped down a drain. Dumping cooling water would be tremendously wasteful and costly.
A closed-loop and cooling tower may or may not be feasible in your facility. In addition to dispersing less heat than an air-cooled machine, the water-cooled system does have some significant advantages in machine efficiency. A water-cooled maker's electrical consumption is generally less when compared with a similarly sized air-cooled machine. Water-cooled units are also quieter for areas where noise is a factor. If water cooling is practical in your operation, use it.
A variation of the air-cooled system is a remote condenser unit that offers some advantages of its own. The remote unit takes the biggest heat-producing component, the condenser, out of the ice maker and your store altogether. The remote approach does not require water and removes most of the heat from the service area. The condenser can be located up to about 50 feet away, perhaps on the roof. Remote ice makers are also quieter than typical machines because some of the machinery has been relocated. No matter whether you choose air- or water-cooled equipment, you will want to look for a unit with an Energy Star label for the most efficiency.
What are some of the latest innovations? Manufacturers are now introducing ice machines with intelligent diagnostics and 24/7 remote monitoring. On some models operators can program ice production and monitor functions like ice clarity, machine maintenance and energy/water usage. Take a look at some of the sleek new models. They are not just nice looking but they are compact, considering the amount of ice they make. Manufacturers are aware that space in your kitchen is at a premium.
Remember never to underestimate the importance of a water filter for your ice maker. Water filters condition incoming water, reduce the machine's necessary cleaning frequency, allow top equipment performance and improve the taste quality of your ice. Lime and mineral build up will be greatly reduced inside your maker if you use a filter. Use a good-quality water filter and follow the directions to change, when needed.
Maintaining your ice maker properly is critical to productivity, food safety and ice quality. Since ice is considered a food safety concern by many health departments, cleaning and sanitizing of ice machines are critical. One feature you may want to consider is automatic, internal self-cleaning systems for the machine that include built-in sanitizers and cleansers. Even if you have automatic cleaning options, still set up and perform a regular internal cleaning and maintenance schedule or contract with a service agency to do the work for you.
If you don't have self-cleaning features on your equipment, proper regular maintenance is critical. Many manufacturers recommend a regular six-month maintenance program. If you have a less than desirable machine location, you may want to consider doing maintenance like coil cleaning and flushing the machine on a three-month schedule.
The location of your machine can be a deterrent to proper cleaning and maintenance. Ice machines have a particularly tough life in environments that produce airborne particles or grease. This could be in a dusty bake shop or near a cooking line. Try to avoid locations where there may be a lot of particulates.
Access to the machine is also an important maintenance factor. Cafeteria and fast-casual operators need to pay careful attention to ice units located on top of beverage dispensers. These units can be hard to reach and difficult to empty. Because they are harder to get to, they often end up not being properly maintained. Make a special effort to service these units. The most important things to remember about your ice maker are to choose the machine that best meets your needs and then take care of it.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.