Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How to clean an Avantco SL309 9" Manual Gravity Feed Slicer

In 2013, I reviewed the Avantco SL309 9" slicer I’d received as a Christmas gift (actually, I picked this unit out for the person who then gave it to my wife and me). This particular post has generated many views and also more comments than any other post on this blog. I was – and still am – very happy with this slicer.

One late commenter, though, spoke about how hard the unit is to clean compared to the higher level slicers made by companies such as Hobart and Berkel. He made a very good point: I hadn’t mentioned cleaning in my review. The reason why is that I’d only cleaned my slicer twice. Yes, it did take a long time, but I figured that was more due to my inexperience than any design difficulties.

Sharpener and meat carriage removed.
I’ve now cleaned my sliced at least two dozen times and I can see what Seymour (the commenter referred to above) is getting at. It is more difficult than it could have been with a bit more design thought.

Slicers are one of the first places health inspectors check when they come into a commercial kitchen. Why? Because poorly cleaned slicers can be a huge source of pathogens, and it’s a place where sloppy kitchen cleaning practices can have serious consequences.

If you have a home unit, the consequences of poor slicer cleaning can be just as serious. So even if you have a bottom of the line unit, you have to be thorough and use the same diligence as a commercial kitchen.

Okay, to address Seymour’s main issue with cleaning the Avantco slicer, I need to state this off the top: you get what you pay for. If I had my druthers (and the cash), I would love to own a Hobart slicer with a 12-inch blade. It’s a lot easier to justify spending under $300 for a slicer you might use a couple of dozen times a year, compared to spending a few thousand dollars. Will everything be the same as one of the big name/expensive machines? No. But you do get a number of things you need to have.

Pros (and I’m reiterating some from my earlier review here):
  • the base is cast aluminum so there are no crevices where bacteria and hide and multiply
  • the blade is very heavy
  • it comes with a sharpener so you don’t have to send the blade out for sharpening.
  • the motor has more than enough torque
  • it comes with a replacement belt for the motor (and a spare sharpening wheel)
  • robust construction means it’s built to last.
  • it’s not the easiest slicer to clean in some ways
  • the blade guard could have been designed better for more easy removal
  • you have to remove the blade to get it really clean and it doesn’t come with a blade guard (although I suppose someone clever could make their own)
  • the directions for cleaning are woefully lacking – probably because this is the one area where the Avantco design falls short.

So, here are my suggestions (and helpful photos) on how to clean any of the Avantco entry-level slicers based on my experience with owning the Avantco SL309.

First and foremost: slicers are dangerous machines. No. Make that very dangerous. You can easily slice off part of a finger with no effort whatsoever. You must always respect that. Don’t be stupid; don’t cut corners; take your time. And above all, any time you are around them, pay attention!

A few unbreakable ground rules:
  • like any power tool, always unplug your slicer before you start cleaning
  • have on a stable workspace in good light
  • make sure the gate (the flat piece lining up with the blade) is closed (thickness setting knob at zero)
  • did I make it clear that the slicer should be unplugged?

Completely disassembled. Notice all the remaining grease!
First, remove the sharpener from the top of the slicer. There’s a knob behind it that you just back off and it will slide up and out. Check to see if there are any bits of food that have collected inside it. This doesn’t happen too much to me, but I check every time anyway. At the very least, I wipe off the outside of the housing.

Looking at the slicer from the front (face on with the blade to the right), you’ll see a black knob underneath the meat carriage. Take that off and slide off the carriage. This part can be run through your dishwasher, but I like to get the job done more quickely, so I wash it in the sink with a lot of soapy water. It can get pretty greasy if you’re slicing things like bacon (which we do a lot). Set it aside to dry.

I usually take off the movable cutting gate, especially if it’s really greasy. The downside is that it exposes the edge of the cutting blade. Be careful if you remove this! Thoroughly wash it front and back and set it aside to dry.

Now we come to the potentially scary part: removing the blade. The reason it’s necessary is that it’s pretty nigh impossible to clean the blade guard that’s fastened to the body of the unit if you don’t (the one major shortcoming of this slicer’s design). It is also easier to make sure the entire blade is clean if you remove it. This is true even with big-name, expensive slicers. But they supply a blade guard that protects you from the blade when you’re removing it.

To get at the three Phillips head screws that fasten the blade to the machine, you have remove the center disk to the blade. There’s a knob on the back of the unit. Back it off a bit, then push forward on it. This pushes the guard out from the center of the blade, making it easy to grab. Finish backing off the knob and remove the guard. Clean this front and back.

Clean the front of the blade carefully. I also dry it off so that when I handle it, there’s less chance of it slipping.

I always use a thick towel when handling the blade. You could also get a knife-proof glove to further protect your hand. Loosen all three Phillips head screws, then unscrew each one the rest of the way. If they’re really snug, it might be a good idea to have the gate on. That way, if the screwdriver slips, you won’t cut yourself.

Once the three screws are out, wrap the towel around your left hand, grab the blade carefully, and lift it off the machine. To clean the back of the blade, I put it on a counter wide enough to hold it without exposing any edges, then carefully wash it. (You’ll wash the front when you put it on the slicer again.)

Next, throughly clean the blade guard housing that’s still on the machine. A lot of food particles and grease collects on this, so be through. I use an old toothbrush to get at it thoroughly. Clean up the motor housing at this time, too, as well as the little guard that keeps food from going behind the blade.

You’ll want to wipe down all parts with a cloth on which you’ve poured some bleach (or you can purchase a sanitizer expressly made for this purpose). This may seem like overkill, but it really is the wisest course. After doing this, I use a damp towel (water) to wipe off any bleach residue.

To reassemble the unit, put the blade back on. Make sure the three screws are tightened snugly, but not cranked down so hard you’ll have trouble getting them out next time. If the gate isn’t on the unit, you’ll need to carefully put it back on (with the thickness knob at zero). It is held on by two screws and nuts. You’ll need to make sure the blade is clearing it. That can be tricky the first few times. I always remount it, and turn the blade by hand (remember: you have it unplugged. You do, don’t you?) to make sure the blade isn’t scraping the guard.

All clean and ready to go.
The rest of the reassembly should go easily. Here’s a good tip, gleaned from losing parts countless times when disassembling anything: put small parts (screws, nuts, knobs, etc) in a dish. Trust me. It works.

I always give the blade a final turn by hand to make sure all is as it should be.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but after a few times, it can be done pretty quickly. After at least a dozen cleanings, I can do it in around 20 minutes. But never rush. Go the speed you can go that day remembering to always respect the blade! It needs to be razor sharp so it cuts easily and well. It’s made of heavy stainless steel for this purpose. So far, I haven’t even nicked myself, but that’s because I take it slowly and easily. Oddly, I’ve found I enjoy doing it.

Okay, you can plug in the slicer now.


Rick Blechta said...

We've used the slicer a bit more often lately, and after talking to someone in a meat department how much easier it is to clean one of the large commercial slicers, I can see how this one is a bit of a pain. But I also maintain that for the price they're charging for what is a pretty powerful motor and with a blade you can sharpen quite well with the built in sharpener, I'll put up with a little difficulty on the cleaning front.

Unit said...

Thanks for the review, you can always use hydrogen peroxide, which is also a bleach, but not as nasty as chlorine. Hydrogen peroxide is safe enough to use as a mouth wash. btw, I'm getting ready to buy the SL310. Thanks again!

Rick Blechta said...

Great tip! Thanks for sharing that.


Unit said...

Hey Rick, I found some great 'cut resistant' gloves to help with using and cleaning the meat slicer. Saw a video on youtube that recommended them, thought I'd pass that on.

Here's the link:

I did receive my avantco sl310, but the first one was all smashed up and I had to request a return and replace. Got it yesterday! Looks and sounds great but I have yet to use it. Soon!!!

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