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Five Tips to Win the War on Water

Most restaurant managers are well aware of the damage poor water quality can inflict on their business. For decades restaurants have been fighting a war against hard water, chlorine and corrosion, but there is a new enemy emerging: chloramines.

Chloramines are organic compounds made of 80 percent chlorine and 20 percent ammonia. It is rising in popularity as an alternative water treatment solution compared to chlorine. Many water treatment municipalities use chloramines—compared to other disinfectants—as an additive because these compounds do not react as readily with organic materials to form trihalomethanes (THTM), which have been related to an increased risk of cancer and infant birth delivery problems. In addition, switching to chloramines as a disinfectant helps cities comply with the EPA’s stricter Stage 2 Disinfection Byproducts Rule, which goes into effect in 2012.

However, for restaurants it’s another story. Studies have shown a correlation between chloramines and the corrosion of stainless steel, hoses, gaskets and rubber materials in hot-water applications such as combi ovens, steamers and warewashers. Chloramines become corrosive when heated and can negatively impact food and beverage flavor, and it can cause stainless steel to pit, rust and turn gray. Chloramines mainly affect copper, copper alloys and other metals as well as rubber.

Protect Yourself Against Chloramines

Restaurant managers can take several steps to ensure water-fed equipment remains up and running efficiently, even when chloramines are present in the water. To minimize the effects of chloramines, employ the following steps: 

1. Contact the local water municipality. Not every municipality uses chloramines, but many do. By contacting their local water municipality, restaurant managers can confirm whether chloramines are used. If they are not used, be sure to check back often, as many municipalities likely plan to switch to chloramines as a disinfectant to meet the EPA’s stricter Stage 2 Disinfection Byproducts Rule prior to the 2012 deadline without notifying the public.

2. Test the water. Restaurant managers should test water on site for chloramines, hardness, iron, pH, total dissolved solids (TDS) and chlorine. Having water analyzed is a critical step in implementing a water treatment solution.Working with a professional is one of the best ways to protect equipment from the effects of chloramines, because professional technicians inspect, clean and adjust equipment at regularly scheduled intervals, not just when it’s convenient. These regularly scheduled visits ensure equipment is properly maintained on a regular basis, without any lapses in maintenance.

3. Install a hollow carbon filter.If the local water municipality confirms the use of chloramines, restaurant managers should install (and maintain) a hollow carbon filter capable of removing chloramines and chlorine. This technology uses a specially activated carbon, different from that found in typical carbon block filters. As it flows through the filter, water remains in contact with the filter media longer, removing the chloramines. 

For best results, restaurant managers should use carbon filters with an approval for ANSI/NSF Standard 42 and Standard 53 specifications for the reduction of cyst, particulate, chlorine, chloramines, taste and odor, and health-related contaminants such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

4. Inspect and clean equipment daily. All water-related equipment should be cleaned and rinsed daily per operation instructions. Staff should inspect water-fed equipment regularly for signs of water-related damage or corrosion. Early detection is the key to stopping corrosion before it spreads to costly and detrimental levels; however, prevention is the key to stopping corrosion altogether.

Look for the beginning signs of rust inside the equipment cavity and on interior components such as walls, ceiling or steam entry. The visual signs can often be seen as a red-orange discoloration in small pits and cracks on surface areas. If left unchecked, the corrosion can quickly spread to other areas, thus becoming deeper and more difficult to remove. Foodservice staff should also clean water-fed equipment daily to remove any scale buildup, deposits or food residue before it leads to corrosion.

5. Establish a preventive maintenance schedule. Properly maintaining equipment lengthens equipment life, enhances operator efficiency, prevents costly downtime, cuts maintenance costs and guarantees proper maintenance.

Some restaurant managers might prefer to maintain equipment themselves, and others favor contracting with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to manage preventive maintenance. When outsourcing preventive maintenance, restaurant managers should be sure to work with a provider that is knowledgeable about the operation’s equipment, warranties and other certifications or qualifications.

Take Precautions or Risk Downtime and Increased Costs

Restaurant managers should be aware that many municipalities are switching water disinfectants from chlorine to chloramines. Those restaurants located in the municipalities that have made the switch to chloramines should pay careful attention to their water treatment applications and preventive maintenance practices, as these are the key defenses against chloramines and corrosion.

By confirming chloramine use with the local water municipality, installing hollow carbon filters, inspecting and cleaning equipment daily, and faithfully adhering to a preventive maintenance schedule, restaurant managers can avoid equipment failures, downtime and increased maintenance costs.