Energy efficiency is one of the key considerations when sourcing kitchen equipment. Reducing energy use makes business sense, as it saves money, enhances a corporate reputation and helps in the fight against climate change. Here, Ian Bryant, environmental specialist for the Carford Group, gives some practical advice on features to look for when buying kit
You need only walk into the average commercial kitchen and look at the way that the traditional gas-fired cooking range is used to see how little regard for energy saving there is in the UK. Some say it is because the catering industry is generally distrusting of new technology. Others point to the fact that UK kitchens are very gas-orientated and therefore at a disadvantage, given that most of the energy-saving equipment being developed is electric, by virtue of the fact that it comes from northern European manufacturers, where electricity rather than gas is the main power source.
Whatever the reason, it seems there is little to be found by way of energy-saving culture in UK kitchens. But with rises in the cost of gas and electricity showing no sign of letting up, there has never been a more pertinent time for caterers to consider the fuel efficiency of any equipment they are planning to buy.
If you are looking to replace a piece of equipment, here is some practical advice on making energy-saving choices.
Induction cooking is one of the most energy-efficient cooking methods. The rapid heating and consistent temperature control offered by induction cookers makes them more efficient than conventional cookers, using far less power with little heat waste. And, because an induction unit will operate only when a pan is in contact with it, no energy is wasted.
Induction units are also great for the working environment. Unlike a gas or electric range, they are not constantly ejecting heat into the kitchen, and so, as well as saving on energy costs, they also help maintain a much cooler ambient temperature in the kitchen.
Keeping the deep-fat fryer, and the oil you use in it, clean will save money, as it extends the oil's life. At the same time, you will also cut down on oil disposal costs and the damaging effect that oil disposal can have on the environment.
Fryers with built-in filtration systems are the most efficient, as they extend the life of the oil, saving not only money, but also the time spent on oil changes.
Electronic temperature controls can save energy by constantly monitoring and adjusting the temperature of the oil. Some fryer models also include a feature to hold the oil at a lower temperature during quiet times, also saving energy.
When it comes to gas grills, the most efficient ones are those that feature an eight-second start-up to reach the desired cooking temperature. Plate-detection systems that activate the heating elements once the plate is in contact with the unit surface and turn off once the plate is lifted can also result in large-scale savings, because the elements are operational only when you are actually cooking.
Compared with traditional cooking methods, combi-ovens use less power, less water, and are more efficient at dealing with fat, incorporating special fat drains in many cases. With fast cooking times and the fact that they can do the work of boiling tops, grills, griddles and conventional ovens, combi-ovens are a valuable and cost-effective asset to any kitchen.
In many cases you can cook more than one menu item in a combi at the same time, so there is no need to power up a number of different appliances. Using fewer appliances will save money on energy costs and will also reduce the amount of vapour that the extraction system has to cope with.
Water treatment is important, as any scale build-up will cause the combi to operate less efficiently.
There is no wasted heat in a microwave oven and no loss of energy when the door is opened. As the oven heats only the product inside, the empty oven cavity remains cool. What's more, it adds no heat to the kitchen working environment.
There are now combi-microwaves on the market that feature the addition of convection and a grill. This transforms a simple reheating cabinet into a multi-function cooking oven. Jacket potatoes can be softened, then crisped pastry dishes can be reheated and crisped in fact, almost all the functions of a standard oven can be performed in the combination microwave oven.
Although not as big as a traditional convection oven, they may prove to be a more environmentally friendly option than firing up a large convection oven when it come to reheating smaller quantities of food.
The energy efficiency of refrigerators has improved dramatically over the past few years, and many of the newer models are able to work more efficiently in hot kitchens, featuring sophisticated temperature monitoring systems to ensure optimum performance.
The search for more environmentally friendly refrigerants has led to greater use of hydrocarbon gas, which is proven to reduce energy consumption and offers a quicker pull-down time than traditional refrigerants.
Besides greener coolants and increased efficiency, many fridges now feature recyclable components. Insulation is thicker, and has been improved, and many units now contain cyclopentane foam, replacing environmentally damaging alternatives such as CFCs.
A greener dishwashing operation is dependent not only upon using less water and reducing the water temperature, but also on effective insulation and the recycling of otherwise wasted heat.
While some glasswashers are now operating at 40°C, true energy efficiency in both glass- and dishwashers means keeping the water as clean as possible, so effective filtration systems are also important. An efficient filtration system will lead to a better wash, will use less water and also less detergent, leading to savings all round.
Pre-rinse sprays with water-saving heads are available to keep water consumption to the minimum. Double-skin insulation will reduce noise and save energy at the same time. Air heat exchangers and waste water heat exchangers in hood-and-rack machines will net energy savings and improve the kitchen air quality, too. Heat that would otherwise be wasted is recycled and used to heat fresh rinse water.
Some models of rack machine feature separate modules at each stage to ensure each compartment works at maximum efficiency.
Keeping water boilers in tip-top condition by monitoring limescale build-up will help to maximise efficiency. Many models now have a built-in early warning system for limescale build-up, which can affect performance as well as the quality of the end product.
Additionally, eco models allow the operator to switch over to energy-saving mode during quieter periods, reducing the volume of hot water held in the tank. Insulated tanks make for greater heat retention and many machines now have recyclable parts.
Knee-operated wash basins are becoming increasingly popular in food prep areas. First, they satisfy the environmental health officer by eliminating the need to turn the tap on with dirty hands and then turn it off again with clean, washed hands touching the dirty tap surface. Second, they are effective in conserving water, giving timed water flow and presenting the user with just enough water for the task.
Counters and serveries
Most units are fitted with thermostats to maximise energy savings, but it is important to check these on a regular basis, ensuring that energy is not wasted in keeping food too hot or too cold.
Careful siting can impact on energy efficiency. Avoid siting a chilled unit next to a heated unit, for example. Some cold counters are equipped with a "curtain of air", which acts as a barrier, keeping chilled air in to preserve the food while keeping warm air out.
At quieter times, units can often be fitted with removable glass doors to retain the heat or cold air, yet still allowing customers to access the food.
No matter what equipment you choose, it's worth remembering that preventative maintenance - that is, keeping equipment in good order with regular inspections and servicing - will save money in the long run and maximise efficiency.
Quick guide to green features