3 KILLER QUESTIONS: Handling food waste in commercial kitchens

Biomaster food waste system

Cost management has become a key theme for operators during the Covid-19 pandemic and will undoubtedly remain the case when kitchens are firing on all cylinders again in the months ahead. One area where significant gains can be made with the right measures and equipment is food waste. We asked leading experts in the field for the answers to three killer questions that every operator wants to know.

QUESTION 1. Even with the best preparation methods and meal portioning, there will always be an element of food waste that operators need to deal with. There is clearly a wide range of equipment out there to help operators process this waste — but what are the consequences of choosing the wrong specification?

Understanding the needs of an individual kitchen is the key to everything here as selecting an underpowered unit will only create issues for the operators, especially if lightweight equipment will not dispose of certain types of food.

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If the right machine is not procured, it could lead to increased breakdowns and operator costs, and staff will invariably lose confidence in it, even though it might just be a wrongly-specified unit.

Steve Witt, managing director at Ecofast, believes each site needs a machine capable of processing most if not all types of food. Its system, for instance, incorporates a powerful 2.2kw motor which can dispose all types of food waste.

“Choosing the incorrect equipment may also have a negative effect on any potential savings,” he adds. “It is important to consider, when selecting food waste management equipment, what return on investment will be generated by a volume reduction. Selecting the wrong equipment potentially would have an adverse effect on the reduction of food waste left for collection.”

Food waste equipment is probably among some of the most abused equipment in the foodservice sector. Witt says Ecofast has overcome this with its latest updates and design changes. It incorporates an operator display screen, which indicates the status of the machine and if there is an issue.

“The self-diagnostic system instructs the operator what the issue is and how to correct it,” he says. “80% of historic breakdowns can now be resolved on site and without a costly service visit. The unique self-cleaning system also reduces the time needed for staff to operate such machines.”

Helen Applewhite, group marketing manager at Lincat, IMC, FriFri and Britannia, says that if equipment is over-specified, the operator is likely to have invested more money in the solution than is necessary. This then pushes out the time it takes to achieve a return on investment.

But if equipment is under-specified, the unit will be working under pressure which in time is likely to cause components to fail, resulting in downtime and repairs required. Not only can repairs be costly but staff efficiency will also be impacted handling higher volumes of unprocessed waste.

“With the recent launch of our IMC WasteStation Compact, we now have a WasteStation to suit the size and scale of most operations,” she says. “WasteStation Compact is great for organisations producing up to 200kg per of waste per hour (400 covers). Our larger WasteStation is perfect for organisations producing up to 700kg waste per hour (1,450 covers).”

QUESTION 2. There are different technologies for processing food waste. When it comes to choosing the right unit for a kitchen, is it purely a volume game? Or should operators be basing their purchasing decisions on more important factors?

The most important factor to consider is how to equip the catering business to ensure the maximum return on investment while meeting sustainable targets. That’s according to Mick Jary, specification director at Meiko.

“Caterers that choose our waste to energy — biomass — solutions realise there are labour savings to be made compared with other waste technologies and they expect an improvement in kitchen management. There is no longer any need to be carrying food waste around the premises!”

He says they will also be more than impressed with the hygiene improvements that come from removing waste bins and all the associated elements, such as replacing black bags, sanitising bins and storage areas and transporting waste from kitchen to exterior. Another key factor is what you need to dispose of.

“Ideally you want a solution that handles the vast majority of kitchen food waste, including fats and oils from plate waste and cooking pans, which is what the Meiko food waste handling solutions are developed to do,” says Jary. The only food waste macerators cannot handle are hard animal bones such as beef and venison and shellfish shells, he adds.

Unlike some categories of equipment where capital purchase price is almost always the deciding factor, there are lots of variables to consider when choosing food waste systems.

Kristian Roberts, marketing manager at Mechline, which produces the Waste₂O food waste biodigester, says: “When choosing the right equipment for re-processing end-of-life food, operators should consider sustainability, factoring in transportation costs, carbon emissions pollutants and particulate discharges, as well as storage costs and facilities, labour costs, energy consumption and costs, hygiene, ease of operation, and waste recovery awareness, segregation and undertaking.”

Volume is a large part of deciding what type of waste management to choose. That said, there are many other factors such as type of food and selecting a macerator for the job.

“How the operator is planning to operate the kitchen will also determine whether the food waste is collected during the service and processed at clean-up or processed by an automated autofeed unit or even a trough system connected to a dishwasher,” says Witt at Ecofast, pointing out that space tends to always be an issue in the UK.

“We boast one of the most compact dewatering systems on the market allowing it to be installed in the even the most challenging kitchen space,” he comments.

In addition to the volume of waste being processed, it is crucial that the type of waste is considered. Lincat and IMC’s Helen Applewhite explains: “For example, if an operator puts tough waste such as red meat bones, cauliflower stalks and fish skins through a unit only designed to take soft waste such as plate scrapings it can cause damage. Meat bones can create a jam in the macerator blade, potentially breaking the blade; fish skins can block the dewaterer causing the liquid to back up through the unit.

“In a worst case scenario, the pipes will burst and soiled water will flood out of the unit. Ensuring we have the correct equipment specified is our priority. The WasteStation will handle soft, medium and tough waste. The new WasteStation Compact, however, is designed to take soft waste so is ideal for operations processing plate scrapings and veg peelings but not bones.”

QUESTION 3. How do you measure ROI when it comes to food waste management systems? What constitutes a satisfactory payback on a piece of equipment?

Food waste can represent a significant cost to businesses, so the first thing to look at is how much of it is preventable. That initially involves understanding the amount and type of food waste currently being produced.

“Operators need to understand where and why food waste arises and the cost of food waste to their business,” says Kristian Roberts at Mechline. “Some of this information may be available from waste contractors if they are already segregating their waste, but operators will also need to dig a little deeper and carry out their own food waste review.

“Conducting a review is really simple with a little bit of planning and some helpful resources. Once operators have carried this out they will have a good starting point (a baseline) to measure the impact of any changes they implement to reduce food waste.”

For help conducting one of these reviews, Mechline has put together steps to guide operators in its Food Waste Reduction Programme (FWRP), available to download free of charge from the website.
Lincat and its food waste equipment brand IMC will conduct a waste audit to specify the correct equipment. That involves working with the customer to establish their food waste types and volumes.

“Usually we will try to obtain information from the waste management company they are using including the number of bins, collection frequency, volume/weight and cost per ton or bin,” explains Helen Applewhite.

“From here we can calculate customers’ annual spend on food waste collection. We use data from existing sites to forecast what reduction we would expect to see. From this we calculate a cost saving per year and work out the return on investment period. Obviously different organisations have different ROI expectations, but from experience we find most expect payback to be within three to five years.”

Food waste needs to be processed with the minimum of labour to achieve the best return on investment. Whatever the government decides, Meiko’s Mick Jary insists the only sustainable solution that minimises costs, especially labour, is the biomass waste to energy, anaerobic digestion route.

“The ROI question is made more interesting by the fact that biomass systems — waste inlets, pipework and holding tanks — could potentially last 30 years or more. Inlets are serviceable and have few moving parts and these can be replaced, giving such a system an exceptionally long economic life.

“The question of who pays the upfront capital cost has to be dealt with. In my opinion, this is not something to come out of the catering manager’s budget. Instead, they should be considered part of the building fabric, like the heating and air conditioning systems.”

Seeing through the FOG

Fats, oils and grease (FOG) is one area of food waste that can directly impact an operator, both in terms of cost and disruption. Under the Water Industry Act (1991), sites are required to install grease separation or removal equipment to prevent it from entering drains or sewers.

“With poor understanding of the issue and concerns over how to correctly specify solutions, an increasing number of operators are facing prosecutions and steep fines for complacency, from health and safety inspectors and from water companies,” says Edward Palin, commercial director at Filta Group.

Filta recently launched the GreaseMaster Cyclone, which offers unique two-stage FOG separation and recovery to deliver industry-leading grease removal.

“Research shows more than 70% of drain blockages and back-ups within a commercial kitchen are caused by the build-up of FOG generated from washing pots, pans and plates,” explains Palin. “The risks include prosecutions and steep fines from health and safety inspectors and from water companies, but also the cost of call-outs and repairs, which can include complications elsewhere in the water system,” he adds.

3 KILLER QUESTIONS: Ice machines and the tricky challenge of hygiene

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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