In almost any industry, the introduction of new laws or regulations tends to set alarm bells ringing in the weeks and days leading up to it. But you often find that once the initial panic is over, and businesses have taken time to educate themselves on what’s required, normality tends to resume pretty quickly.
That is certainly what it has felt like with new rules around acrylamide levels in food, unveiled earlier this year. The regulation requires food businesses to identify potential sources of acrylamide and demonstrate that they have taken appropriate action to reduce the levels of acrylamide according to the principle of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable).
“In our experience, the introduction of the legislation surrounding acrylamide in cooking, particularly in regards to fried food, has had little impact on the industry,” reflects Michael Eyre, culinary director at industry supplier Jestic Foodservice Equipment.
“Many independent and multi-site operators had previous knowledge of the importance of oil management and with innovative technology readily available to implement best practice use, the guidelines simply reaffirmed existing awareness and, in most cases, compliance,” he adds.
As a natural by-product of the cooking process, particularly in starchy ingredients, acrylamide has always been present in food, and it is not possible to eliminate this. However, by taking actions to identify and reduce the formation of the chemical substance, foodservice businesses can comply with the recent guidelines.
“Most foods cooked at high temperatures pose a potential threat,” acknowledges Shaune Hall, product development chef at Falcon Foodservice Equipment. “Potatoes and foods containing higher levels of carbohydrates are more at risk. It’s important to ensure that staff are properly trained, and that chefs are introducing more suitable cooking techniques, recipes and substitutes for carbohydrate heavy menus.”
Temperatures over 180°C increase the risk of acrylamide formation, so it is advisable for operators to test their oil to make sure that it stays within safe limits.
Paul Hickman, culinary development manager at Lincat, says: “If you’re investing in a new fryer, ensure that you buy one which has precise thermostatic control. It is important, too, to keep your oil clean by regular skimming and filtration. This is to remove food debris from the oil which would otherwise carbonise and, potentially, produce acrylamide. To make this process easier, invest in a fryer which has easy-to-use, on-board filtration.”
Steve Elliott, sales director for Valentine Equipment and Cuisinequip, suggests that fryer users should set the temperature of the fryer at the lowest level necessary for the particular product that is cooking.
“This will ensure that the outer layer is cooked at the same time as the middle of the food and avoids excess browning. The use of an oil tester machine to measure the level of TPMs is also advised. The oil is then discarded only at the correct time when the TPMs have reached the recommended levels. We find that many establishments are discarding their oil too soon and this could reduce their overall costs of oil.”
Elliott says that cleaning and conditioning the oil is an important part of reducing acrylamides and, for companies that don’t have a fryer that features an oil filtration system, a retro-fit solution such as that provided by Vito is recommended.
“This uses a cellulose filter to remove particles and debris from the oil,” he explains. “This will remove TPMs, reduce acrylamides and allow the establishment to save money. These benefits are all on top of serving better quality fried food by cleaning the oil.”
If you’re investing in a new fryer, ensure that you buy one which has precise thermostatic control”
Vito director Iain Addison agrees. “Serving the best quality fried product to your customer should be at the top of any food business,” he says. “Good oil management is key to cooking in the best quality oil at all times. Oil management means cooking at the correct temperatures, knowing when to change the oil and filtering daily, and looking after your oil in between services. Using the Vito oil filtration system daily will remove 95%-98% of the acrylamides found in cooking oil. This has been researched, tested and proved by scientists from our HQ in Germany.”
Elsewhere, David Barton, sales director at Pantheon, believes that taking the time to understand how acrylamide is caused will stand operators in the best possible stead and give them an opportunity to ensure that their kitchen practices are adequate.
“Of course, an accurate thermostat is very important so that a pale, golden colour can be achieved on food as that will limit its formation. Importantly though, rather than simply relying on equipment, is understanding how different foods respond. Raw potatoes, for instance, should be stored in a cool environment — not refrigerated — as they have an enzyme that breaks down the potato’s sucrose content at low temperatures and this can contribute to forming acrylamide during frying. Also, blanching potatoes before frying removes around half the sucrose, resulting in lower levels of acrylamide being produced.”
Advanced fryer capabilities
With the spotlight shining on acylamide this year, some operators might be thinking that investing in equipment with advanced cooking and management capabilities will give them added assurance that legislation can be met.
Suppliers certainly report interest in machines that provide a high level of intelligence and accountability, although they note that the onus is still on the operator to manage the finer details.
“There are programmable fryers on the market that will assist this process. However, it is still the responsibility of the operator to ensure that correct temperature settings and cooking techniques are in line and compliant with guidelines and current legislation,” responds Falcon’s Hall.
“Tools that can support the reduction of acrylamide formation such as digital precision-controlled temperature and time equipment should be used. Access to downloadable data to track the kitchen equipment operation and performance is beneficial to chefs and to the business operation.”
One of the frontrunners of high-end frying technology is Henny Penny, whose Elite fryers are used by many top operators. Its innovative systems monitor everything from the oil level to the precise temperature and the quantity of product in a basket to deliver exacting cook times and outstanding results.
UK distribution partner Jestic is now in the process of launching the brand new, advanced, state-of-the-art Henny Penny F5 range to the UK. It combines many of the unique features of the Evolution Elite series with the very latest technological developments, leading the company to dub it the ‘first true smart fryer’.
Jestic’s Michael Eyre insists the system has been designed with simplicity in mind. “The units feature intuitive, touch-screen controls, complete with easy-to-follow training videos, cutting the need for education by up to 50%. They are intended to withstand the demands of a busy kitchen and feature super-fast 8GPM pumps to prevent clogging, eliminate hot spots and speed up filtration to less than three minutes, preserving oil life while minimising downtime for a busy kitchen. Advanced vat design also reduces oil consumption by up to 40%.”
Over at Valentine, Steve Elliott says the company has moved to ensure its latest generation of fryers is able to support operators with all their needs. “The Alpina range is fitted with a more precise fully electronic control and this will help to ensure better temperature control at the lower end,” he says. “Oil and filtration systems are really important. The Evo 2200PP twin pump fryer is a new addition to the Valentine range with a twin pump system to segregate the oil used in each pan. There is a separate filtration system for each cooking chamber, which prevents cross-contamination of food that contains different potential allergens, or when cooking different groups such as meat and vegetarian products.”
Implementing the correct operational procedures
The consequences of not implementing the right frying procedures came to light recently when a Welsh branch of KFC was slammed for its cooking and training procedures, including a lack of documented checks on oil levels in its pressure fryer, after it served undercooked chicken to a customer.
In his judgement, the District Judge, who handed down a £35,000 fine, highlighted numerous issues with the branch’s procedures, including failure to implement correct staff training procedures and a lack of documented checks on oil levels in the pressure fryer.
The case undoubtedly highlights the operatinal obligations on fryer users and poses the question of whether suppliers can do more to assist.
“HACCP management and in-house training are two of the most important aspects of the day-to-day running of a food-led business,” says Falcon’s Hall.
“Manufacturers need to ensure they issue the correct and most updated guidelines to kitchen operators. Visual oil checks need to be commonplace in the kitchen to monitor the fryer condition. It is important to have a regular cleaning regime and the oil replaced promptly when necessary. The frequency will be dependent on what is cooked in the fryer. Cleaning and oil changing records must be kept up to date.”
Glenn Roberts, chair of trade association CESA, echoes the view that while manufacturers can provide bags of support, operators have a duty to do their part. “Modern electronic oil testers make checking oil quality quick and easy — there’s no real excuse for not doing it,” he says. “Operators need to ensure that staff are fully trained and they should prioritise the elimination of bad practice, especially when dealing with something as potentially dangerous as oil. They also need to ensure records are kept, including temperature checks and handling issues.
“Equipment suppliers are responsible for providing equipment that is fit for purpose. To that end, manufacturers are investing in research to develop new technologies that can make oil management easier and safer. Features that are common in modern high-end fryers include timers, integral oil filtration and automatic basket lifters.”
Given that the popularity of fried food remains as strong as ever, operators can reliably utilise the intelligent cooking platforms they have at their disposal to meet this demand while staying on the right side of the law.
10 top tips for good oil management
The frequency of oil changes depends on a variety of factors such as the output of the food operation and the type and state of the foods that are cooked in the fryer. Here is our round-up of the best advice from a mixture of leading suppliers:
1. Test the oil each time it is used. Monitor its smell, colour and frying behaviour.
2. As a general rule it’s important to change the oil every 4-5 days, and to complete a robust clean of the fryer and tanks.
4. If you filter oil manually, make sure it is at the optimum temperature before you start. 40°C is ideal. Too hot and you run the risk of serious burns, too cold and the oil becomes viscous and can take longer to filter. Use a good temperature probe to be certain.
5. Filter oil into a metal container standing on a metal tray to minimise the risk of spills. Always dispose of oil in an environmentally-friendly fashion via a licensed waste oil collection service; you can’t just pour it away no matter how small the amount.
6. It’s important that every member of staff is trained on how to operate the fryer for maximum productivity, efficiency and safety. Take advantage of any training packages offered by suppliers and manufacturers.
7. Ensure thermostats are accurate by having them checked regularly by your service company.
8. Take the frying baskets out of the oil when not in use and use the dust covers. This will help to keep the oil as clean as possible — even oxygen contributes to oil degradation over time.
9. Make sure that your fryer is completely dry before you load new oil following cleaning. Water contamination will significantly reduce the life of your cooking oil.
10. Ensure that all food you are cooking is as dry as possible, so remove ice from frozen products before cooking them. Not only will this prevent spitting, but it will also extend the life of the oil.