The flow must go on 

Oh, the lowly, unappreciated commercial kitchen drain, so often neglected, but what a load to carry!

When considering a kitchen’s capabilities, kitchen designers, facility managers, chefs and other personnel tend to focus on a commercial kitchen’s many appliances – the brand name out front, how big the equipment is, and how it is laid out. Granted, cooking is important in a large kitchen, but too often overlooked is one of the most important facets of keeping a busy kitchen operational and clean: its floor drains. 

But consider the need for kitchen sanitation. Anyone who has worked in a commercial kitchen knows that every day food morsels, ingredients, and most every drop of sauce, soup or stew that doesn’t leave the kitchen on a plate or in a bowl ends up on the floor. 

That’s why kitchens need to be cleaned between meals or, for food and beverage processing, as routinely as the need requires. 

Making sure that floor surfaces are squeaky clean and free of bacteria and debris places great expectations on a kitchen’s drainage – to say nothing of the volume of water required to wash the floor and flush the drains, or the time to do it properly. 

Avoiding construction damage

Drainage is typically sloped to one per cent from the drain and is anchored in place to become a part of the floor. It’s important to protect it during the concrete pour, and the durable channel cover used should be left in place during all floor work. 

Material considerations

If you have worked in a professional kitchen, you’ll see a lot of stainless steel. From the doors on the fridges and freezers, to the prep tables and sinks, stainless steel is used because it’s extremely durable and easy to clean and sanitize. And that’s also the reason you’ll see it in the drainage systems in many kitchens. 

Stainless steel drains, grates, drain channels and even P-traps are all available for use in commercial systems. Stainless P-traps have the ability to withstand the very high temperatures of water that is dumped into them from large kettles, or used to flush the drain channels, as well as the surfactants (cleaning chemicals) that may also be used. 

Clean and thrifty

Some drains are designed specifically for use in the food and beverage industry, where maintaining hygiene is critical. Lacking corners or inside cavities to harbour bacterial growth and, with resistance to a wide range of cleaning chemicals, these drain systems are not affected by high-temperature cleaning, caustic cleaners and effluent, or steam disinfection. 

One North American brewery that my company worked with took the opportunity to install a trench drain system suited to the beverage industry when it built its new 50,000 sq. ft. brewhouse, and the choice of drain ended up having a nice trickle-down impact on its bottom line. 

In their old facility, employees would spend 10 to 15 minutes hosing down the floor after a tank cleaning to get all solids down the drain. With the drains in their new facility, most of the solids would make their way down the drain with little effort; an employee would only need to spend a minute or so cleaning up any loose ends. 

With floor and drain washing being required twice a day, the new drains free-up half an hour of labour and save hundreds of gallons of water each day. Looking at that figure over the course of a year, the savings add up to be pretty significant, and have an impact on their ROI, simply by selecting the right drainage product. 

Avoiding bottlenecks

When planning out the drainage needs of a commercial kitchen, or a food or beverage processing facility, there are some calculations that should be performed. Sizing drain channels is a facet of the design tied directly to the volume of drainage required. 

One of the most important functions of a drain is to get waste material and water off the floor quickly. Drainage should never be a bottleneck. The sooner the floor is cleaned, and dry, the sooner it’s safe to work on again.

Typically, a kitchen drainage system will use a four- inch drain and a P-trap. This meets the majority of flow capacity needs, although in some cases, a larger drain surface and channels are needed. 

At larger facilities, the drains may be several square feet in size, with water and waste material flowing through grates – often stainless steel grates – into a broader and deeper channel for faster disposal. 

Keeping the floor dry isn’t just a safety issue. Sanitation is very important, especially when considering the possible presence of toxic contaminants such as listeria, salmonella and e-coli – what I occasionally refer to as the “Big three.” 

Checking the channel

An important consideration when specifying drains is the manufactured channel grade. All drains aren’t created equal, so be sure to compare the effectiveness of a drain’s ability to carry away wastes, and flush water.

Drains, especially those for larger kitchen, brewing and food processing operations, may be 16 inches by 16 inches in size, some may be 20 by 40 inches, or even larger. With that size of grate, they should be chosen for their strength and durability – in some cases with the ability to sufficiently tolerate the weight of a fully-loaded forklift.

They should also be easy to clean, ensuring that solids don’t get hung up in them. That’s why we suggest avoiding drains with square corners when sanitary conditions are an absolute must. 

Location, location, location

Because the main purpose of drainage is to eliminate waste and flush water with a facility, it stands to reason that the best place for the location of drains is where the most water is — I’m referring not only to water dumped from kettles, but also water used to clean floors and flush the drains. 

Many cleaning procedures involve the drainage of highly acidic materials, so the grade and formulation of stainless steel may be a consideration. And when cleaning, it’s best to avoid strong chlorine solutions, such as industrial bleach or sodium hypochlorite. Even stainless steel can oxidize, often looking like white blemishes. This will eventually weaken the material. 

Michael O’Brien is the Canadian regional sales manager for Blücher, a Watts brand. He can be reached at [email protected]