Does your restaurant water heater meet industry standards and regulations? Here are a few of the key things you need to know to keep your restaurant in the clear with codes and regulations!

Restaurant Hot Water Requirements: Is Your Restaurant Hitting the Mark?

Do you know which components of your restaurant kitchen’s hot water infrastructure are regulated under the FDA’s Food Code?

The Food Code sets the guidelines for each individual state’s food codes, and specifies restaurant hot water requirements for warewashers and sinks. Understand these critical components of food sanitation and make sure your water heater is meeting hot water requirements. Hot water plays an important role in keeping your doors open to the public, so let’s make sure you are up to code!

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As a restaurant owner, you use hot water on a daily basis in your kitchen. The average restaurant uses 2 gallons of hot water per meal served, and the temperature of that water can play a critical role in keeping things sanitary. Here’s an overview of some of the most important ways that hot water is used in a restaurant:

  • Man with food poisoning - Is your water heater equipment meeting restaurant hot water requirements? Staying up to code will keep your doors open - here's what you need to know!Sanitation: Not only is good sanitation the law, but it’s simply best practice to have a clean kitchen facility. Clean and sanitized equipment, dishes and surfaces reduce the risk of foodborne illness caused by bacteria. You want to be recognized for your amazing food, competent waitstaff and unique ambiance – not a track record of food poisoning.
  • Hand Washing: Your staff should be trained in proper personal hygiene for handling and serving food. Aside from not coming to work sick, it’s imperative that staff know how frequently and thoroughly to wash their hands. It might seem like a job for an elementary school teacher, but if your staff are touching food with their unclean hands, you could have a foodborne illness on yours.
  • Washing Dishes: Common sense tell us that no one wants to eat off of a dirty dish, and your staff is not likely to send one through the line and out to a table either. However, bacteria is not visible to the naked eye. The only way to make absolutely sure that your dishes are truly clean is to run them through a sanitizing warewasher or dish machine, which requires either very hot water or sanitizing chemicals.
  • Cleaning Your Equipment: Best practice says to wipe down surfaces and equipment with a clean rag and detergent. Anyone who has cleaned up a much-used surface like those in a restaurant kitchen knows that a rag soaked in hot or warm water will be more effective than one that is cold.
  • Washing The Floors: Similar to cleaning a counter with warm water, you’ll get better results getting any sticky, residue or gunk off of those hard floors with a lot of hot water in your mop bucket.

Turning Up the Heat: Sanitizing Dishwashers

To revisit our statistic from earlier, of those two gallons of hot water used per meal, 1.6 gallons, or 60%, of this water is used during peak dishwashing time. In order to comply with local health codes, your restaurant dishwasher setup requires special attention.

In the world of commercial dishwashers, aka warewashers, restaurants essentially have two options to choose from to pass a health inspection. Your restaurant can use a high-temp warewasher that uses hot water for sanitizing, or you can use a low-temp warewasher, which requires chemicals to get the job done. As with most things, there are pros and cons of each option.

The heat sanitizing option requires that the water run through the dishwasher for the wash cycle be heated to between 150 and 160 degrees fahrenheit, depending on the specific type of high-temp warewasher. Here is the wording from the Food & Drug Administration’s Food Code, which most health departments take their guidelines from:

4-501.110 Mechanical Warewashing Equipment, Wash Solution Temperature. (A) The temperature of the wash solution in spray type warewashers that use hot water to SANITIZE may not be less than: (1) For a stationary rack, single temperature machine, 74o C (165o F); Pf (2) For a stationary rack, dual temperature machine, 66o C (150o F); Pf (3) For a single tank, conveyor, dual temperature machine, 71o C (160o F); Pf or (4) For a multitank, conveyor, multi-temperature machine, 66o C (150o F). Pf

Most importantly, there is the requirement for the rinse cycle. This cycle is considered the sanitizing cycle, and the water temperature must enter the machine at a blistering 180 degrees fahrenheit. Again, the text of the Food Code:

4-501.112 Mechanical Warewashing Equipment, Hot Water Sanitization Temperatures. (A) Except as specified in ¶ (B) of this section, in a mechanical operation, the temperature of the fresh hot water SANITIZING rinse as it enters the manifold may not be more than 90o C (194o F), or less than: Pf (1) For a stationary rack, single temperature machine, 74o C (165o F); Pf or (2) For all other machines, 82o C (180o F). Pf “

Here’s the logic behind these two codes: Germs, bacteria and other microorganisms won’t survive on dishes heated to 160 degrees. Research has shown that heating the rinse water to 180 degrees will produce a dish surface of 160 degrees – hot enough to kill the nasty stuff. However, it’s much easier to heat a cold dish up to that 160 degree temperature if those dishes spend a bit of time in a wash cycle heated to 150 or 160 degrees. It’s also important that your hot water sanitizing cycle not exceed 195 degrees, because food particles can actually “bake” into your dishware at temperatures that extreme.

One thing you certainly should NOT do is attempt to turn your regular water heater to 160 degrees for sanitation. While this is not a good idea for many reasons, in this case, that temperature of water is not sufficient for sanitizing.

If you choose the hot water sanitizing method, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a booster heater installed as part of your operation in order to safely reach hot water temperatures high enough to sanitize. (Your primary water heater’s thermostat might go that high, but doing so would cause severe burns when hot water is used for anything else.)

Your warewashing machine should come equipped with a data plate affixed somewhere on the machine that tells you the temperatures reached, as well as the time required for the wash cycle. These requirements are also laid out in the food code. Even so, it’s recommended that you test the water in your warewasher periodically to be certain your equipment is functioning properly. Your state and locality may require documentation on your warewashing equipment temperatures during an inspection, so be sure you know what proof they may ask you to provide.

If you go with the chemical sanitizing option, the water in your low-temp warewasher must reach a minimum of 120 degrees fahrenheit. But you’ll have better luck getting grease off those dishes at a temperature closer to 135.

Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning to Work

Burn Safety Chart - Is your water heater equipment meeting restaurant hot water requirements? Staying up to code will keep your doors open - here's what you need to know!

The hot water supplied to your handwashing sink must reach at least 100 degrees. The requirement used to be 120, but it was lowered to 100 to minimize injury  from hot water scalding.

Remember! If your restaurant has a bar area you’ll need an additional hand sink for the bar, one that is separate from the back of the house.

Setting Up a New Restaurant Kitchen?

If you are in the process of designing your restaurant’s kitchen, this is the time to begin thinking about your water heating system. In order make sure your restaurant is equipped with the right setup, it’s important to start by making a list of the fixtures and appliances that will require hot water. From there you can work backwards to the water heater and additional equipment like booster heaters. Water heater sizing is best left to the professionals, so don’t try and figure it all out on your own. If you begin by simply choosing a water heating system out of thin air, you could be left with no hot water when you need it most.

Depending on your kitchen set up and your local regulations, you may have some or all of the following:

  • Restroom sinks
  • Hand sinks
  • Bar sink
  • 3-comp sink
  • Dishwasher (Door-type or Conveyor)
  • Pre-rinse valve
  • Mop sink
  • Utility and Prep sinks
  • Dipper well
  • Automatic pot washer

And don’t forget to include the late-night cleaning demand when taking your hot water needs into account! Hosing down floors, filling up mop buckets and filling large sinks can use massive amounts of hot water.

As a restaurant owner or manager, you need unlimited access to hot water, immediate or close to immediate hot water delivery, and reliability when it comes to hot water equipment – ideally with little or no maintenance. You also need to make absolutely certain that your water heater can consistently meet your cleaning demands and the temperature requirements set out in the FDA’s Food Code, so you can breeze through your health inspection with four gold stars and keep your customers coming back for more. Staying informed about your hot water helps you stay in business!

Featured image licensed for use under CC Public Domain.