Taking care of our environment is a serious business, and where contract catering is concerned there are many elements of focus that can help operators, and therefore the customers they serve, to make a positive impact. The reduction of energy consumption is a key factor, and by focusing on driving efficiencies in this area it is possible to both improve carbon footprints and reduce energy costs without compromising on the quality of the offering.
Catering kitchens are busy places that inherently require a great deal of energy to operate effectively. The preparation, cooking, serving and storing of food alone draws on a near constantly supply of gas, electricity and sometimes oil, and that is before we look at elements such as cleaning, lighting, ventilation and wastage.
Of course nobody is expecting a return to the dark ages – where rudimentary tools were used before the daily ‘catch’ was thrown directly into the coals of the fire – but a tightening up of processes and a tweak here and there could have a significant impact on energy use in areas that may have slipped from the forefront of caterers’ minds. The total energy consumption in the UK‘s catering industry is estimated to be around 20,600,000,000 kWh per year — that’s enough to power 4.5 million UK homes every day – therefore an improvement on this number should be well within grasp.
There are many areas where efficiencies can be achieved, and taking the time to go back to basics and to adopt a common sense approach can often pay dividends.
For convenience in the kitchen a large number of appliances are available to make food prep just that little bit easier. From blenders and dehydrators to electric whisks, all are useful it’s true, but as chefs it can be a lot more rewarding to reconnect with the basics and to save a little energy in the process. Those knife skills honed over the years can be put to good use in chopping and slicing wherever possible, for example.
Of course, there will be many occasions where appliances will be necessary in busy kitchen environments, this is unavoidable, so where making capital purchases for a catering operation it is advisable to look into the energy efficiency ratings of the equipment you intend to buy. Bear in mind that many options that carry a higher initial purchase price can deliver a far faster return on investment over the lifespan of the appliance through energy savings, so it is worthwhile looking at the bigger picture and undertaking some research.
Refrigerators, although they have massively improved in terms of efficiency in recent years, are still one of the major contributors to energy consumption in professional kitchens. This is largely because they are always switched on to maintain the correct temperatures for food storage. However, there are steps you can take to reduce energy usage.
One simple solution is called EndoCube, a simple device that sits over the thermostat sensor of commercial refrigeration units. The EndoCube reduces the number of instances where the refrigeration cycle is activated. In most fridges and freezers, the thermostat uses a sensor to measures the temperature of the air, rather than the contents. However, air can change its temperature far more quickly than food or liquid, meaning the refrigeration unit triggers its cooling cycle, expending more energy, even when it may be that the contents of the fridge are still cold, or frozen in the case of a freezer.
This is more common in refrigerated display cabinets, where there is a constant flow of air as they are either open to the surroundings or have repeatedly opened doors. The purpose of the EndoCube is to fit over the thermostat sensor and to mimic the temperature of the food. This means that the refrigeration unit only activates the cooling cycle when it is actually necessary, resulting in a reduction in cycles of as much as 85%.
Finally, ensure your fridge is maintained according to its instructions. Only by operating at optimal efficiency will it help to contribute to tangible savings to your energy consumption.
Cleaning is of course an essential element of everyday life in the kitchen, but little things such as filling the dishwater to capacity before turning it on can help a lot. Half loads still use the same amount of energy and water and the chances are you’ll have to do another half load later! Set it to economy mode and at the same time keep an eye on how you use the taps in your kitchen too. Do you leave them running when you could turn them off? It is literally water and money down the drain.
Purchasing cleaning goods from sustainable and eco-friendly suppliers will also help as the dosage usage is lower and it is much better for the environment. Products from companies such as Delphis Eco are leading the way in this instance. The products are all plant-based, ecological and readily biodegradable and using such products has the added advantage of feeding directly into your own sustainability and CSR initiatives.
Reducing food wastage and making the best use of ingredients can help to increase efficiency and help the environment. Adopt a weigh your waste policy in order to keep a tangible record and consider the following:
a) What is in season? Crops from outside the UK or Europe will already be well in to their shelf life before they arrive on site, limiting the time chefs will have to use them;
b) Using ingredients effectively: think about how items such as vegetable peelings can be used to make a stock, for example;
c) Monitoring what items are selling best. Is there too many of a particular Grab & Go sandwich? Too few of another? Are there any particular dishes that always sell well? Keep a log of the most popular meals so ingredients can be stocked, accordingly; and
d) Quality not quantity. Perhaps a Grab & Go has too large a range of items for a site and becomes overwhelming for the customer? Concentrate on a smaller but popular range of items. Benefits include being able to buy larger amounts of fewer ingredients, increasing efficiency and reducing the amount of food sent to landfill.
Environmental issues will only increase in importance as time goes on and it is therefore paramount contract caterers take steps to reduce their carbon footprints as soon as possible. Doing so may not be at the forefront of everyone's mind all of the time, however, it is by changing mindsets gradually and tweaking the way we operate, that catering teams learn to embrace the benefits environmental and commercial benefits associated with reducing energy consumption.