Back to School Kitchen Re-Starting Basics

School cafeteria lunch line
By Pat Findley – Master Certified Lead Technician
It’s almost time for schools to welcome back their students which means re-starting the school kitchen. The following blog is full of useful information broken down by equipment type, outlining what I check and test to ensure a kitchen is ready to serve hungry students.

commercial dishwasher vacuum breaker

Commercial Dishwasher Vacuum Breaker

Commercial Dishwashers – I will generally inspect the curtains to verify they are not brittle or too badly misshape, that they hold heat in the unit, as well as keeping water from splashing out. Now is a good time to look over the tank and make sure nothing has fallen in. During filling, it is a good tip to check your vacuum breakers to ensure they are not leaking (see photo). Once filled, I would let the unit sit, this will let the unit fully heat up, giving you a chance to look for any leaks as it is harder to spot a leak after the unit is running and water is splashing around. Next, turn the unit on and look under the pump for any signs of a leak. Listen to ensure you have a good spray of water and also pay attention to any abnormal sounds. Lastly, run a rack or some dishes through the unit to verify proper temperatures.

Hot and Cold Food Wells – These are the main feature of any serving line. Hot food wells can come in a variety of types, water, no water, common or individual drains, etc. Just be sure if they require water, that you fill them to the appropriate levels before turning on. When testing hot food wells, I like to cover them as it tends to hold the heat in, and they seem to heat faster but that may be my imagination! Just make sure they get to temperature and cycle off and on normally. Cold food wells can be turned on to a desired set point. Make sure you have no abnormal sounds coming from the condensing unit, for example the fan blade hitting something or fan bearing noise. Some food wells have blowers to assist in air flow, if so, make sure the blower is spinning freely and moving ample air flow. For static food wells with no air flow, ensure you have a uniform frost pattern.

Commercial Coolers and Freezers – hopefully the doors were propped open if the units were turned off. If not, the door seals may be stuck. If so, take your time opening the doors to ensure the gasket does not tear or get pulled out of its track. With the unit off, it is a good time to wipe both the unit and the door gasket off with some mild soap and water. Turning the unit back on can either be done by plugging it in, flipping a switch or using a digital controller depending on your model. Cooler evaporator fans generally come on when the unit starts up. Freezers have a delay on their evaporator fans, so don’t be alarmed if the unit doesn’t come on immediately. Like any other piece of commercial kitchen equipment, you want to listen for any abnormal noises. I like to check the condenser coils to verify they are not obstructed or dirty. Now is a great time to put a filter on them if you use them. Units should be down to temp within 2-4 hours. Any longer than that and you may have an issue and need a service call placed.

Combi-Ovens and Commercial Steamers – These units utilize water and some sort of energy such as gas or electric. Make sure your water supply is on, as well as electric and gas. Perform your normal start up procedures. Keep an eye out for any potential leaks. Once filled, start the units up, then it’s back to using your ears again! If you hear a chattering or buzzing, you may have an issue with a solenoid valve. Also, electric contactors can chatter or buzz. If you hear any of these sounds, it’s a good idea to call in a service ticket. Ensure your blowers are running, if equipped. Lastly, run your unit and verify it is heating properly.

Commercial Ovens – These are easier. Ensure your utilities are on, gas or electric. Turn the unit on and listen. For gas units, if you smell gas or your unit is not heating, shut it down and most importantly let the gas in the air dissipate before trying to relight again. If your oven still will not light, you may have an igniter issue. For older ovens ensure your pilot light is lit. For newer ovens, listen for a clicking noise or look for an igniter spark. If you cannot see or hear the igniter you may need to place a service call but keep in mind if your oven has a glow pug igniter it will be silent. Once it is running, you can verify temperature with an oven thermometer.

Let General Parts Group Help

In the event you find yourself short on time, General Parts Group is here to help. We provide a customizable commercial kitchen equipment planned maintenance program for our clients, which will take care of your school’s kitchen re-start needs.

If you need any further advice or assistance concerning your kitchen restart, then please reach out to your nearest General Parts Group location by calling (888) 498-1238 or by the following email