Hot Food Trends Create Demand for Energy-Efficient Technology

From better cooking fryers to water saving dish washers, food service operators look for ways to save.
By Mary Ann Milbourn

Farm-to-table. Environmental sustainability. House-made artisan ice cream. These are just a few of the dining trends that the National Restaurant Association says will be hot on menus this year.

As these industry trends develop, the Southern California Edison Foodservice Technology Center and other utilities are right there with them, testing new equipment that will not only produce food that is tasty and safe, but is energy efficient and can save operators money.

“Food trends determine a lot of what we do,” said Richard Young, a senior engineer and director of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Food Service Technology Center, during a presentation hosted at SCE’s Foodservice Technology Center.

The connection between food service and energy savings is not always obvious, but it can have a major payoff for operators who take advantage of some of the new technology.

Young cited the hot trend of brewpubs, many of which began in garages, but grew into commercial bars or restaurants. That growth can present unanticipated costs.

“They get hit with commercial water rates and sewer charges they didn’t anticipate,” he said.

Investing in a glycol chiller for their fermentation tanks instead of a water-cooled model could result in a major savings in water and energy.

Other trends offer similar opportunities. New high-efficiency commercial fryers may cost a little more, but can maintain a constant temperature that will let operators produce more batches faster.

Citing recent headlines about E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, Young noted that farm-to-table will be an increasing challenge for food handling and safety.

“The whole nature of local is just not going away,” he said. “We’re going to see lots of vegetable washers.”

SCE and other utilities will be testing those washers and other equipment to determine the most energy-efficient models for food service operators.

Andre Saldivar, an SCE engineer and project manager for the Foodservice Technology Center, noted there are other opportunities for food service operators to save money. A variety of rebates are available to save upfront costs on new energy-savings equipment.

SCE also offers seminars and demonstrations on energy-saving equipment throughout the year and will even let operators try out the equipment in the test lab at its Energy Education centers in Irwindale and Tulare.

Saldivar and Young said there is much opportunity in the food service industry for energy savings.

“The fact is, there’s still a lot of traditional food and equipment out there,” Young said.