Zero food waste is the next frontier in going green for foodservice operatiors.

Many foodservice operators continue to explore zero food waste initiatives. But why not take that line of thinking one step further to strive for zero energy waste? That was the challenge presented to more than 200 foodservice professionals from all industry segments — including many chain and non-commercial operators — by Don Fisher, co-founder of the Food Service Technology Center. Fisher made this challenge during FSTC’s 25th anniversary celebration earlier this month.

“Eighty percent of our energy use is wasted on a daily basis,” Fisher said. “How do you think an operator would feel if 80 percent of the food was wasted? Why can’t we have zero energy waste?”

A growing number of foodservice operators now compost waste, recycle and build new stores using renewable materials in an effort to “go green.” Why not consider heat recovery and smart systems? Or, in an effort to start small, why not look at the way staff use specific pieces of equipment over the course of their work day? These are the types of questions the foodservice industry will continue to face as costs of all kinds continue to escalate.

For example, while certain pieces of foodservice equipment may be efficient in their own right, operators need to use these appliances correctly to optimize their potential. In other words, being energy efficient is much more than buying a product for a price.

“Combi ovens are more efficient because they have better insulation, for one, but if you switch the appliance on combi mode and let it run that way all day, the idle rates can be high,” noted David Zabrowksi, director of engineering for the Food Service Technology Center. “The most optimized way to maintain the combi is at a mostly dry setting with a touch of steam.”

Using smart controls versus manual options represents another way to optimize already efficient equipment, Zabrowski said. “Smart controls manage cooking processes, reduce unproductive ‘on-time’ and optimize equipment performance,” he said.

Heat recovery represents an emerging area when it comes to energy efficiency. Clamshell griddles recapture heat otherwise lost from open-top designs. Boilerless connectionless steamers use heat already generated within the unit to heat water sources. Many dishwashers are doing the same, capturing heat already expended by the machine to treat cold entering the machine. In noting some of these developments, Fisher encouraged the foodservice equipment manufacturers to continue to expand their thinking in this area. He even floated the idea of a covered charbroiler, one that captures the heat for faster cooking times and helps keep the kitchen more comfortable for staff.

Another area of heat recovery technology centers around refrigerant sources and wasted heat from walk-in coolers and freezers, Fisher said. This particular technology continues to be in development stages, but a kitchen of the future certainly might involve this method of energy preservation and reuse.

As the foodservice industry continues to strive for ways to become more environmentally friendly, it is important to explore ways to better work with legacy equipment to help achieve the newer goal of achieving zero energy waste.