Local health codes govern the number, types and sizes of prep sinks commercial kitchens must have. These regulations also address water levels necessary in each sink, backsplash heights and drain board sizes.

Prep sinks are a vital component of any kitchen that prepares its own made-from-scratch salads, fruit dishes and vegetarian meals. When used properly, sinks play an important role in properly washing dirt and other contaminants from food before preparation.

Sink components include a backsplash, compartments or bowls, a drain board, a front roll rim, legs and fittings. Bowls may be fabricated or deep-drawn. In some instances, sinks mount to a wall, but they are typically supported by legs fitted with adjustable bullet feet for a level setting. In addition, operators can usually order braced legs to prevent wobbling during use.

The standard prep sink size measures 4, 5 or 6 feet long and 24 or 36 inches wide. The sink bowls themselves typically feature 14-gauge 304 stainless steel. Welded bases are available but cost more. Prep sinks should be large enough to hold the amount of bulk product the operation needs to wash and rinse.

Prep sinks also can be customized as a three-compartment sink with a disposer welded into either the top or one of the sink bowls. Oftentimes, these types of sinks will come with polymer cutting boards that fit on the bowl’s top. This allows for trimming and cutting of fruits and vegetables. The scraps will go into the disposer. It’s important to check with local inspectors to understand any regulations that surround placement of prep sinks and the use of equipment, such as disposers, as regulations can differ from one municipality to the next. When not in use, the cutting boards can be stored in a stainless-steel lot-type holder that is welded under the sinks.

Purchasing Considerations

Many operators do not consider the orientation of the cutting table when choosing a prep sink.

“The workstation around it is an important aspect of the design,” says Ignacio Goris, principal at Miami-based labor management solutions firm Labor Guru. “Operators need to think about the placement of that piece of equipment, whether you have a cutting area on both sides or one side.”

The number of prep sinks an operation requires depends on how many hours staff will use the sink and the volume of product. “In some cases, operators may choose a three-compartment sink, but not all municipalities require this; it depends on the products,” says Goris. “Sinks are not a huge investment, and operators can save labor hours to do more than one thing at a time.”

It’s important to note that operators mainly use prep sinks to clean foods and slice fruits and vegetables. Prep sinks are not suitable for handwashing.

Cleaning & Maintenance

Prep sinks require fairly basic cleaning and maintenance. Frequent cleaning and sanitizing of sinks is necessary to avoid rust and corrosion. Use only mild soap and water or nonabrasive cleansers to clean stainless-steel sinks since abrasive cleansers will scratch and dull surfaces. After cleaning, rinse and wipe sinks dry.

“Operators shouldn’t use steel wool on stainless steel,” says Dennis Black, service tech at Baltimore-based EMR.

It’s important to take care of the drains, which can leak. Drain screens are recommended. “The amount of solids in water are tested these days, and although it’s easy to take out screens to drain water quicker, it is against local regulations,” says Black. “Updating drains is part of maintaining prep sinks.”

The only necessary maintenance occurs if the faucet or drain leaks. “Physically, the only thing that wears out on the actual sink are the edges, which can get damaged from pans being run across them and the welds can break,” says Black. “This happens over the course of many years of use.”

Prep sinks can last as long as 10 to 20 years due to the lack of working parts. “Signs a sink is failing are broken welds, faucets or drain systems, which can all be updated or fixed,” says Black. “It’s rare to replace a sink unless a larger size is needed.”

Other signs that indicate a sink needs replacing include leaks from the stainless-steel structure and not from drain fittings. If a drain fitting leaks, it most likely stems from a seal leak that a plumber can repair. If the leaking comes from the stainless structure, including the corners, bottom of the bowl or where the sink bowl meets the drain board, it should be replaced.

Dents in the sink bowl bottoms and drain boards are typically signs that the sink has reached the end of its service life or the metal gauge of the sink construction is too light for the application.

Corrosion is another sign that the sink needs replacing. The corrosion may come from rust caused by several issues ranging from overly caustic or non-approved food-safe cleaning materials to staff dumping food and/or highly acidic liquids into the bowl. Cleaning materials or food product, such as pickle juice, will corrode sinks that are not thoroughly washed, rinsed and sanitized. Also, what appears to be rust at times can simply be various food product residues that accumulate on the surface due to a lack of cleaning. Residues can be removed with proper cleaning methods using various food-safe products, which will make a big difference in the appearance of the sink.

It is crucial that all service sink faucets have a vacuum breaker to prevent backflow — an unsanitary consequence. For food safety purposes, operators should install NSF-rated sinks whenever possible. These must be manufactured with radius seams, coved corners and integrally welded drain boards for the most effective sanitation.