Try it yourself. Tell someone in the industry you're shopping for a slicer, and ask for his advice. Dollars to doughnuts, the first words out of his mouth will have to do with—and may even include the word itself—safety.
"You always need to find out the safety features," says Don Roenigk, g.m. for Certified Service Center in Louisville, KY, which services f/s equipment. "How easy they are to clean—that would be very important—and also how easy they are to sharpen."
Matthew Santarpia, dir. of corp. recruiting for f/s contractor CulinArt in Lake Success, NY, says he has seen "nothing much in terms of new products," but is quick to add that "slicers are a very hot topic with us as far as safety issues."
As part of its safety program, CulinArt sends out a monthly publication featuring safety topics to all of its accounts. Managers who hold scheduled safety meetings use the materials.
Razor sharp: "Slicer safety is one of our most important topics," he confirms. "Not many people in f/s know how to use a slicer properly in terms of slicing, in terms of taking it apart to clean, etc. We have intensive seminars on just the slicing machine: how to use it, how to clean it, how to take it apart."
CulinArt also maintains a procedural standard that calls for the proper signage regarding usage wherever slicers are stationed (see below). The signs detail how to use the units, as well as how to clean them "because it's a dangerous tool if it's not used right."
"I think that people in general, and this includes many f/s employees, don't really know how sharp they are," says Santarpia. "You can get a piece of clothing caught in it, or perhaps a finger when you're slicing deli meats. That's probably the biggest faux pas in using it."
The same danger is present when slicers are cleaned, he continues. "It's got to be unplugged, and that razor is very sharp. In fact, it's 'razor sharp.'"
Indeed, there are those who try and clean slicers while they are still plugged in. Says Santarpia, "They put a towel on it and turn it on while it spins. We don't see it that often anymore, but it's a big problem. When you rush with a sharp blade like that, that's when accidents happen.
"The new slicers, as they get better, have better safety guards, which are always important, especially when you're slicing meats," Santarpia continues. "Encasing the whole blade in the safety guard is important. Many slicers have that now, especially the newer ones. We make sure our equipment is as updated as possible, and specifically the slicer because it's so dangerous."
Like a glove: Employees must be trained to dismantle machines "systematically and clean each part separately," he stresses. "You clean and sanitize it because it touches food. And be careful to wear your safety gloves, which are important. The safety gloves are like a chain-mail material. Any time we use a slicer, we require safety gloves."
Another good piece of advice is to remember to turn the thickness control knob as far to the right as possible when the unit is not being used. Many models offer tilt-away carriages that let employees clean hard-to-reach spots safely without having to dismantle units. This can prove a big time saver during busy dayparts.
Many recommend that all cleaning and sanitizing be done in the middle of the day and once again at closing time or end of shift. Units should be cleaned when kitchen staffers switch from meat to cheese, or vice versa, or even from one variety of the same product to another.
Employees can also forget or overlook cleaning under the slicing machine. They should be shown how to lift the levers they'll find on some models to raise them. Doing so also improves the circulation of air, thus slowing the growth of germs.
Choosing a unit: What else should a f/s operator look for when purchasing a new or used slicer? "Obviously you're looking for durability," says Roenigk. His method for determining durability is the old-fashioned one: seeking word-of-mouth endorsement. "I ask people who've had them in the past. I get endorsements based on practical experience."
The feature to look for depends heavily on the uses an operator intends to put the machine through. "It's based on what your needs are," Roenigk notes. "If you go ahead and get an automatic slicer and it's got something that is not necessary for you, you've wasted your money."
A number of models feature both an aluminum base and stainless-steel product contact parts—like the knife, knife guard and carriage. All necessary care should be taken regarding rusting of the blades and other parts.
Those in need of automatic models, with a carriage that moves back and forth by itself, are high-volume outlets. "An Arby's would have to have an automatic slicer because they slice so much roast beef all the time," he notes. A deli would have to have an automatic model. Someone like a Cracker Barrel doesn't have to have an automatic one. They'll have a hand-push unit, which has electricity to the blade, not the carriage."