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Oil, grease, spills and water quality: How does a restaurant chain cope?

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Deepti Mehta is Co-Founder of Ajna Hospitality LLP

Deepti Mehta is Co-Founder of Ajna Hospitality LLP, which owns the South Indian restaurant brands 22nd Parallel and Idlikaaran. Based in Vadodara, it has spread to four cities and eight outlets over 12 years, and now plans to enter the processed foods space. She spoke about the cleaning, hygiene and water quality challenges of restaurants and food processing facilities, as well as how MicroGo’s solutions have helped.

What are the principal cleaning challenges you face?

I operate a wet kitchen where South Indian food is prepared. We have a vada station, a dosa station and more, so oil and grease are always present in the kitchen environment. Grease tends to get stuck in the chimney, and later trickles down onto the floor.

After every batch of dosas is prepared, the tawa needs to be cleaned with water. Naturally, there is going to be some water that ends up getting sprinkled around it, which then ends up on the floor, which tends to always stay
slightly wet.

Grease and water are the two main dampeners in a modern wet kitchen.

How do you deal with floor spills during working hours?

Rasam, for example, spills easily onto the floor. We have one person in the kitchen whose sole responsibility is to keep cleaning and wiping the floor, because slips and falls are possible and even probable. He uses a wipe, followed by wet mopping and dry mopping; every time this needs to be done, there is havoc in the kitchen for the next three minutes. Everything comes to a halt; in this business, when we lose time, we also lose money.

How and when is deep cleaning done?

Every night, we take the last order at 11 pm, since the tava needs to cool down before it can be cleaned. After moving all kitchen equipment, a thorough deep cleaning is performed. We clean all surfaces, remove all the grease, and then do dry mopping. We can leave for the day only once this is done.

What kind of cleaning chemicals did you use earlier? What do you use now?

Earlier, we were using cleaning chemicals that were extensively used in the safe area. However, they were mild and worked well only in areas where there was less grease; hence, they were less effective inside the kitchen.

Detergent powder is also not very effective for this kind of cleaning. Also, in food preparation areas, we cannot use hazardous chemicals; it needs to be a chemical-free zone.

MicroGo has provided us with a package of solutions for all of these problems. From degreasing vessels to cleaning floors and surfaces, we have something for everything.

What parameters must water used in food preparation meet?

Vadodara’s groundwater is extremely polluted and the TDS is very high; our idlis would turn yellow and our sambar would be inedible if we were to use that water in unpurified form. TDS levels can reach as high as 1500 here; our RO system fails every month. It is critical that the TDS of the water we use in food preparation stays between 200-400.

How do you ensure only clean water is used in the kitchen?

We have five outlets in Vadodara alone; each new outlet needs clean drinking water and the TDS needs to be checked every day for the outlet to function.

MicroGo has introduced us to a solution which controls and monitors cleanliness and the TDS level of water in the water tank. Once we secure the agreement of other occupants of the building from which we operate, we will start using it. It looks like an extremely useful product.

How do you clean fresh produce that is used in food preparation?

Before Covid, we only washed the produce we used. In our kitchen, we must ensure that everything that goes on the customer’s plate is washed and goes out in the most hygienic manner possible. Now, we are also exploring MicroGo’s solutions for washing fruits and vegetables.

What advantage do IoT-enabled solutions offer?

Previously, video cameras had to be used to determine whether or not hygiene standards were met. Today, with IoT-enabled solutions like MicroGo’s, this information is delivered straight to your personal device, along with statistics. There can be real-time corrections as well.

IoT devices enable a self-auditing process. It works extremely well for us, especially since we are also in the franchisee business. Any type of self-auditing tool is more useful for us.

Tell us about your plans for the new central kitchen and food processing unit.

We have procured land for our central kitchen, that will cater to all our outlets, as well as manufacture packaged products like sambar and rasam powders and South India savouries.

The MicroGo team has asked to be involved from the planning stage itself, right from setting up the tank and the drain line. Such end-to-end solutions will be very useful for us.

Because of the nature of this business, the pricing of food items is mid-range at best. The only USPs I can offer my customers are quick service, and hygienic and tasty food. We don’t cut corners when it comes to quality; as a result, we have a central kitchen, and make every effort not to compromise on hygiene.

Pest control and deep cleaning dates must be aligned, all though there will be some up and down. Integrated solutions like this will pave the way for us to be a little more in control of our hygiene levels.

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