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Maintenance prevents refrigeration failure, product loss.(Hotel operations: mold remediation)

Hotel & Motel Management; 11/1/2004; Higgins, Stacey Mieyal

It's an hour out from the dinner rush, and the walk-in refrigeration unit in the kitchen decides to go on vacation. What do you do?

Before cashing in your chips, consult the backup plan that you put in place for just such an occasion. Because, of course, you have a backup plan in place in the event of equipment failure or power outage, right?

Most hotels have backup power generators that will handle the power outage, but if the equipment breaks, how do you protect all of the contents?

Bob Ducy, director of engineering at the Fairmont Scottsdale (Ariz.) Princess, is responsible for about 40 Scotsman and Hoshizaki ice machines, 10 walk-in coolers and freezers and 40 to 50 reach-in units at the 651-room property.

His backup plan requires that the other units have enough space to accommodate product transferred from any unit that fails.

"Product can be moved quickly subsequent to sending in the repairman to trouble shoot," Ducy said. "Parts are ordered and replaced if needed and the cooling system is put back online."

Becoming familiar with the equipment and commonly occurring problems are paramount to avoiding a complete breakdown, according to Tom Sheridan, owner of the 22-room Taughannock Farms Inn in Trumansburg, N.Y.

"Have a relationship with the contractor, be around as much as possible, get involved and discuss a problem and why it happened, so when symptoms occur--before a shutdown--you can say, 'Here's what's going on.'" Sheridan said. "You can speak to them intelligently."

There is one walk-in, outdoor cooler at the property, which needs to be at peak performance.

"You don't have to be an expert," Sheridan said. "It's about being generally aware of the components ... knowing that in some cases if you clean off the condenser or evaporator your problem is solved."

In most cases, refrigeration units are online with a backup generator if a power outage occurs.

The 402-room Radisson Plaza Hotel Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Convention Center has a 500-gallon diesel fuel unit that can supply power to essential systems for two working days, said David Nobers, director of operations.

The hotel has one icemaker on each of 10 guest floors, two additional icemakers in the kitchen and bar areas and three walk-in units.

Two of the walk-in units are located in the main kitchen and a third is off the kitchen in a service hallway. The third unit sometimes is shut down during the off season to conserve energy.

"We have the ability to consolidate cheese, milk and vegetables into the larger of the two main units if necessary," Nobers said.

As an extra precaution, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess has an agreement with a refrigerated truck company to be on the property within an hour of a power failure.

"Between our generator and the redundant space, we have not used it," Ducy said.

At the Glenview (Ill.) Courtyard by Marriott, the expertise of the engineering department is the only safeguard against spoiled food and broken ice machines. The refrigeration equipment is not attached to a backup generator.

In-house engineers handle all but the "big problems," according to Gabriel Garcia, chief engineer of the 149-room property, which has seven Scotsman ice machines and four refrigerator units. An independent contractor is brought in to fix those problems.

The small problems include repairing the evaporator fan, changing the thermostat, cleaning ice machine sensors and replacing the computers and switchboards.

For failures lasting between 20 minutes to 30 minutes, the refrigerators are left closed, Garcia said. If equipment is offline for more than 45 minutes, the temperature would be checked every 10 minutes. According to Garcia, however, a power failure has never lasted more than 45 minutes.

The best defense against equipment breakdown is routine maintenance, everyone agreed.

Sheridan said he purposely bought a low maintenance, seamless Polar King unit, which is designed to avoid pipe leakage and gasket rot.

The efficiency outweighs the added cost of the unit, he said.

"Because we're seasonal, we have the luxury of shutting down the equipment and hosing it out twice a year," Sheridan said. "We also take the fans out once a year and spray detergent onto the evaporator, which dissolves dirt, grease and grime. Then we gently hose it out."

A clean refrigerator should be a priority, Sheridan said.

"Just like a car, keeping it clean and free of debris extends the life of the equipment," he said. "That has an indirect effect on the compressor, which doesn't have to work so hard on start up and is not working so long."

The harsh climate of the Arizona desert required strict compliance with the manufacturers' maintenance recommendations, according to Ducy.

"We are very close to exceeding the operating conditions," he said of the property's outdoor ice machines. "It is imperative that equipment is clean and in good condition."

The compressor of a refrigeration unit should receive semi-annual cleaning and inspection, Ducy said.

"That has to be done twice as often in harsh environments," he noted.

The outdoor Hoshizaki ice machines at the property also are upsized to compensate for the efficiency lost because of the desert heat.

Ducy estimated that the life expectancy of compressor and evaporator units is 10 years to 15 years.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

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