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Issue Date: Vol. 52, No. 6, June 2012, Posted On: 6/13/2012


Backflow Hobgoblin May Vex Plumbed-In Brewer Operators


by Kevin Daw
backflow problems, OCS, office coffee service, vending, vending machine business, Heritage Coffee, Kevin Daw, National Automatic Merchandising Association, OCS best practices, coffee brewer installation, coffee brewer service, backflow, plumbed-in coffee brewers, Rick Pavlic, Pavlic Vending and Modern Coffee, de-liming, Craig Sletten, GoldStar Coffee Service


The NAMA OneShow recently wrapped up in Las Vegas. It is always such a pleasure to see a lot of old friends and acquaintances gathered together to learn what the latest trends are, and what new gizmos the engineers have created to better deliver our coffees to the public. Many folks stopped me to comment on these columns, and I was thrilled to find I actually have some fans out there. Stephen King may not be quivering in his Maine mansion just yet, but I was very appreciative of the positive responses.


By all accounts, it would appear there is a resurgence in single-cup pod coffees. Brewer designs have finally caught up, and some are soon coming to market at price points that will finally make the math work. As a private-label pod manufacturer, this was music to my ears!

During the convention, I had the pleasure to be a panelist for the OCS roundtable "Best Practices" session. I was asked to host the "equipment installation and service" component of the discussion. I accepted with mild trepidation, as I haven't physically installed a "plumb-in" since saddle valves and flaring tools were de rigueur.

Fortunately, roundtable discussions, by their very nature, drive themselves as operators get to swap tales of what works, and where the problems lie. There are always some interesting revelations, and I believe these sessions are among the greatest reasons to attend NAMA conventions: operators always take away at least one idea that pays for the trip, and then some.

During this years' session, something was brought up with which I, and many others in attendance, were unfamiliar. But we were greatly intrigued by it, as it could present a significant challenge to our industry, should the idea spread beyond the few states presently backing it. The issue, which presently is being tackled in Wisconsin and Tennessee, amongst others, involves backflow issues presented by plumbed-in coffee brewers.

Taken directly from the Nashville.gov website: "Drinking water normally flows in one direction -- from the meter to the home or business. Backflow is the reverse flow of contaminated water, or other liquid, into the drinking water supply. The potential exists, for example, for contaminated water from your swimming pool or irrigation system to be pulled back into the drinking water system if a drop in pressure were to occur on the main water line. A drop in pressure could result when a hydrant down the street is opened to fight a fire or if a water main break were to occur. With a sudden drop in pressure, water could flow in reverse -- bringing contaminated water from your pool or irrigation hoses, through your house or business, into the public drinking water supply."

The site further states: "A cross-connection occurs when possibly contaminated water is directly connected to, or has the potential to be connected to, our drinking water system. The most common cross-connection at homes occurs when a garden hose is submerged into a swimming pool or bucket. At a business, a cross-connection can occur when supply lines to boilers, coffee makers, and other equipment are not properly installed."

Contaminated water from a coffee brewer, seriously? I'll concede some coffees I've tasted during my travels might be considered contaminated, if flavor is considered one of the criteria; but the water that goes into a brewer is the same water that comes out. The exception, as Rick Pavlic from Pavlic Vending and Modern Coffee (Troy, MI) pointed out, would be if a cleaning or de-liming agent happened to be in the tank at the exact time a backflow event occurred. This is highly unlikely, and easily avoided by disconnecting the brewer from the waterline during the descaling process. Some cheap water filters may release trapped contaminants, but none that didn't come from the water supply to begin with.

So how the heck did we get our brewers targeted? As Craig Sletten of GoldStar Coffee Service (Madison, WI) -- the gentleman who brought the subject up -- explained, the plumbing unions brought it to the attention of government officials at the state and local levels, and many of them have embraced and supported correcting the backflow threat by requiring installation of backflow protectors, or through ensuring there is an airgap in the waterflow, as is found in brewers using a pan above the heating tank.

Backflow from coffee brewers is obviously not nearly as big a threat as the powers that be would like the public to believe. Unfortunately, in today's high-unemployment, low-tradesman job prospects environment, anything that creates more jobs for those hurt by the housing crisis is seen as beneficial, and office coffee brewers are an easy target.

Next column, I'll discuss what operators have run into when confronted with this problem, and whether there is anything we can do.


KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a leading private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries in North America. He is in charge of coffee buying for Heritage. A 30-year veteran of the workplace service business, Daw has served as a commission coffee service salesman, a principal of a vending operation and president of a bottled water company. Since 1990, he has concentrated on coffee roasting. Active in industry affairs, Daw is a Specialty Coffee Association of America Certified Brewing Technician, a member of the National Beverage and Products Association Hall of Fame, a recipient of the National Automatic Merchandising Association Supplier of the Year Award and a NAMA Coffee Service Committee member.


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