Add Pollution Prevention To Your Menu

Claudia-HeadShot03CropClaudia Pingatore formerly worked with Contra Costa County’s Green Business certification Program, where she helped hundreds of businesses prevent pollution and conserve resources. She continues that work now, as a recent addition to the FSTC team, by helping to maintain the FSTC’s green certification. If you have questions about preventing pollution or being green, feel free to email her at Or if you’re already on top of these things, consider becoming certified as a Green Business!

The environmentally responsible restauranteur looks at how to be energy efficient, use less water and generate less waste. But one area of sustainability is often overlooked—pollution prevention. From the farm to the fork and down the drain, the effects add up across the roughly 100,000 commercial kitchens in California alone (not to mention our home kitchens!). While there is a week dedicated to pollution prevention (Sept 21-27), we at the FSTC believe that every week should be pollution prevention week! Let’s discuss some simple ways to incorporate pollution prevention into your routine.

Implement Regular Cleaning of Grease Traps/Interceptors

Our water treatment plants have only so much capability. Pollutants can bypass treatment systems, especially synthetic chemicals for which the systems aren’t designed. In addition, blocked piping due to FOG (Fats, Oil & Grease) can lead to sewer back-ups causing risky, acute pollution within your facility (not to mention a total operational shut down and the costs and bad PR resulting from it). These risks are best managed by regular cleaning of grease traps/interceptors. Of course that is why our local compliance agencies require it!

Only Rain Down the [Storm] Drain

Stormwater is not treated at all before entering our waterways, so even seemingly harmless substances like ‘biodegradable’ soaps can have cumulatively negative effects (remember, soil acts as nature’s filter; however, storm drains go straight to the bay with no filtration – man-made or natural). When washing floor mats or other equipment, do so at a sink or other wash down areas that drain to the sewer. If you wash down your parking lot, use a BASMAA certified cleaner since they are trained in proper collection and disposal of dirty water.

Use Certified Green Cleaning Products

 The varied and relatively unregulated chemical constituents in cleaners, coupled with their daily use, create a significant chemical load down our drains, or worse, in our dining environments. But not all chemicals are created equal: ‘Green’ cleaning products are sold everywhere from supermarkets to distributors such as EcoLab. To avoid ‘Greenwashing’ – or unsubstantiated green claims, an unfair and not uncommon practice among these products – purchase products with third-party certifications such as Green Seal. Other resources for responsible purchasing include EPA’s Safer Choice and San Francisco’s approved product list. A cleaning product can be green without a certification, however you’ll likely have a hard time making that determination without a toxicologist by your side.

Employee engagement is very important. Enable them to purchase the right products, by making an ‘approved list’. Make sure they know how to use the products as well to avoid waste and unnecessary chemical exposure.

Prevent Pest Problems with Good Housekeeping, Hire a Certified Green PCO When Necessary

Traditional pest control involves the use of harsh chemicals and often involves outdoor perimeter spraying which can pollute the environment). Prevention is always the ideal approach. Keeping food sealed and clean – whether in the kitchen or the trash area – is a low-cost and chemical-free way to avoid pest problems. When you see a pest, try locating the entry point and simply blocking or caulking it closed. If this is not effective, hire a pest control operator (PCO) that is knowledgeable on these principles and applies less toxic products only where needed. Look for certifications such as EcoWise, GreenPro, and Green Shield. To get you started, Pesticides Linger is offering a 25% off coupon for these certified PCOs (under “Hire Eco”)!

Buy Local and Organic Food

So far we’ve talked about site-specific actions, but as we all know the foodservice industry has far reaching effects beyond the restaurant itself. Where that food comes from and how it is grown is a huge part of pollution prevention and overall sustainability since fertilizers and pesticides are major sources of pollution in California. This is one reason why organic agriculture is such a big deal. Alongside other practices such as maintaining crop diversity and soil integrity, organic agriculture ultimately reduces the need for added chemicals by restoring ecosystem health. As always, buying certified organic products protects you (and the responsible farmers) from greenwashing.

You may be thinking, “With all I have to manage in my restaurant, I don’t need any more on my plate!” But as often is the case with positive change, a little upfront effort goes a long way. After all, most of these pollution prevention measures come down to awareness and simple protocol or purchasing changes. Still, seeking 3rd party certifications is a recurring theme here in part because it takes out the guesswork, making it easy to be green.

Why practice pollution prevention for a week when you can incorporate it into your overall “green” strategy? Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” -Benjamin Franklin.

Dishroom Water-Saving Innovation Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

Michael Karsz, Research Technician and FSTC Videographer

Amid this dire drought, California restaurant operators have been looking for various ways to save water anywhere they can in their establishment. Out of necessity comes innovation. A popular news segment highlighted a coastal restaurant that employed a standard air compressor in their dishroom instead of a typical pre-rinse spray nozzle. According to the story, the restaurant saved gallons of water daily, while also ostensibly ridding their dishware of food debris.

Curious and excited about the viability of such a water-saving dish-cleaning instrument, the FSTC put the air compressor to the test alongside two staples of dishroom cleaning: the manual scraper & the pre-rinse spray nozzle. FSTC researchers also used two notoriously resilient food products to dirty the test plates: egg and chocolate cake. Watch the results below!

The FSTC found that a standard, unmodified air compressor failed to clean the plates adequately before they entered the dishmachine. Food debris was launched in all directions if the compressor was not angled just right. The compressor motor was loud when in use, which could cause issues with occupational safety and health standards.

The scraper faired better, but the pre-rinse spray nozzle cleared the plates most effectively. Although the pre-rinse spray nozzle does use a fair amount of water, specifying a low-flow (< 1.15 gpm) nozzle can drastically reduce your water usage in the dishroom, while not compromising effective plate cleaning. You can find a list of rebate-qualifying pre-rinse spray valves here.

Recently, the FSTC learned that the air compressor is undergoing numerous modifications to make it more suitable for dishroom cleaning, such as adding a pressurized water component to the air nozzle. The FSTC looks forward to testing a prototype once it is developed!

Until then, however, the FSTC recommends a low-flow pre-rinse spray nozzle, a handheld scraper, and implementing water-saving best practices, which you can read all about here.

The Greener Restaurant: Saving More by Using Less

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

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The FSTC’s mission is to educate the restaurant workforce on ways to reduce energy and water consumption so they can operate greener restaurants. Another key component of becoming a greener restaurant is monitoring and reducing food and solid waste so, when the FSTC held their annual Spring Greener Restaurant’s seminar, along with energy and water efficiency, this year’s program focused on how to reduce, reuse and recycle with an emphasis on food and solid waste.

Food waste in restaurants is a huge issue – up to 10% of purchased food may be wasted before it ever reaches a plate. This pre-consumer waste is due to spoilage, excess trimmings, and over-production. One company, LeanPath, has a technological solution to this challenge that includes an innovative approach to measuring and tracking this waste stream.

LeanPath’s system incorporates a scale, an overhead camera, and proprietary software to document the type and the amount of food wasted. By pushing a button, the system records the image and the weight, which is then summarized and reviewed on a local or remote computer. Reviewing the waste allows operators to determine what areas need improvement, raise employee awareness of the issue, and implement training to minimize food waste.

Patricia explains the LeanPath system

During the FSTC hosted seminar, attendees participated in an experiential learning exercise to determine how education and awareness influence behavior. While Chef Nick Truby of Rational prepped the food for lunch, Patricia Kelly with LeanPath demonstrated how the LeanPath tablet-based Zap system could be used to measure and log the 7 pounds of pre-consumer food waste resulting from the trimmings.

Chef Nick preps for his demo of the Rational Combination Oven

Then, while lunch was cooking, Chef Nick demonstrated various features of the Rational Self Cooking Center Combination oven, which was a real crowd pleaser because many in the audience had never seen a combination oven in action.

As part of the classroom lecture on how to reduce energy and water waste in the greener restaurant, the FSTC team asked the audience to join in a brainstorming exercise where the whole group tried to list all the ways a single piece of equipment (a combination oven) influences the energy, water, solid waste and food waste stream. Everyone was impressed with the list of inputs and outputs – few had any notion of just how many ways a single piece of equipment interacts with all the other systems in a kitchen and ultimately how that impacts the environment.

When lunch was served, the guests were told that any food left on their plates would be weighed post-lunch to determine the amount of post-consumer food waste. They were then free to decide how much food they wanted to take.

The FSTC team invites the audience to join in an experiential learning exercise

Would people consciously change their behavior knowing that they were being monitored? Would they take less food because they knew their leftovers would be weighed? It was an interesting experiment because, even knowing that their left-overs were under scrutiny, the post-consumer food waste for all 25 people still added up to almost 10 pounds. Did people change their portions? Yes, many people admitted to paying more attention to how much food they served themselves, taking slightly less. They were also surprised that, even paying attention, there was still so much post-consumer food waste. It was a great learning experience.

Anne and Kimberly with Republic talk about solid waste

So, what happens to all that food waste, and all the other solid waste generated in the kitchen? Kimberly Lam and Anne Baker from Republic Services generously shared their knowledge of solid waste, food waste and recycling – clearing up some misconceptions and giving the audience some real world strategies for starving the landfills.

The FSTC teams’ experiment with experiential learning turned out to be a great success. It took a little courage to mix food, garbage, high-tech equipment and on-line calculators but, the audience gave a big thumbs up and everyone walked away with action items, resources and new strategies for cutting waste and being a little greener.


And, The Winner Is…

By Kiana Caban, Communications Assistant

Kiana CabanHave you ever won a contest? Here at the FSTC, we wanted to encourage our friends to “like” us on Facebook so, we held a contest. All the “likes” between 200 and 300 were entered into a drawing. And the winner is…? Well, I’ll get to that but first, a little background:

If you remember reading the blog “Knowledge is Power: Kiana’s Gift”, our Director of Education, Richard Young, talked about the many projects Kiana (that’s me!) worked on while interning which included updating the ENERGY STAR page on One of my last projects was to increase our Facebook outreach. We want more Facebook “likes” so that we can let you know all the cool ways that we are helping food service professionals.

In the article Richard writes, “One way that you could pay her [me!] back for creating the very useful ENERGY STAR page is to keep those likes coming. In fact, I have a very nice, state of the art LED lamp that I am going to send to one randomly chosen person out of the next 100 likes.”

Jesse SelbertWell, the FSTC reached 100 more “likes” late in 2014 and…drum roll please…the lucky winner was Jesse Selbert at Western Pacific Distribution. Being a generous bunch, we didn’t just hand out one lamp; Jesse won the LED lamp, a Sideboard gift card, an FSTC water bottle, and some other goodies.

Selbert told us, “I installed the LED lamps as soon as I got home and look forward to a great meal at Sideboard.”

I would like to thank those of you who took the time to “like” our page and have continued to “like”, “post” and leave comments. We really appreciate all the support and interaction.

The first drawing was so much fun that we decided to do it again. Right now we are at 325 “likes” but we want to reach a new milestone of 500 so, the next 175 “likes” will be entered into a fresh drawing. If you haven’t visited our Facebook page, please go check it out and hit the “like” button. Perhaps you will be our next winner!

To get your name in the drawing, click: and give us the “thumbs up”.

Water Waste At Its Best

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

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I recently spoke at a sustainable food service workshop in Las Vegas that was hosted by Southwest Gas, NV Energy and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Vegas is one city that cooks a lot of shrimp so, as part of my Operating a Water and Energy Efficient Restaurant presentation, I showed everyone the following video of shrimp thawing in a bowl under running water.


Todd Bell, our Senior Energy Analyst sums it up perfectly as “water waste at its best…” While it’s fun to laugh at some of our bad habits, it’s also embarrassing to think that this is standard practice in thousands of kitchens in water challenged areas like Las Vegas and California.

Water is a commodity – it cost money and it’s getting more expensive. Thawing under running water is literally throwing money down the drain. For example: a faucet running at one gallon per minute for one hour a day will send over 20,000 gallons of water down the drain at a cost of around $200.00 (double that cost if you live in California).

Looking at the bigger picture, water is one of the most important ingredients needed to grow food. Farmers are cutting back on crops because they are short on water and meanwhile, kitchens are throwing water away. I wonder how the farmers might feel about that?

So, what is the alternative to thawing in the sink? The best practice is to use a refrigerator. Yes, that requires a bit of planning but it will save you money, you can start today and it’s the right thing to do.

Energy Management Systems and a View into the Smart Restaurants of the Future

Elan Frantz, Research Engineerelan

Disney’s movie “Smart House,” released in 1999, was based on a fictitious, futuristic house with a mind of its own. Upon a command from the owner, the house could whip up a smoothie, clean instantaneously, and even cook dinner. Everyone who has owned or helped operate a restaurant can dream about a “smart restaurant-” a place which can take some of the responsibility of running a foodservice establishment away. While we don’t have kitchens that run themselves yet, we are coming closer to having intelligent restaurants with the emergence of Energy Management Systems (EMS). With an EMS, operators can view the real-time status of the energy-using systems in their restaurant from their computer or smartphone and even control certain aspects like the temperature of the building or the lighting settings. Luckily for restaurant owners, EMS systems do not typically turn evil and trap you like the house in the Disney movie.

Installing an EMS is like adding a central nervous system to your restaurant. Information like restaurant temperature and light settings are all controllable and viewable through a single system. As the name suggests, the goal of EMS systems is to carefully manage the energy expenditure of a building to reduce the total energy footprint and save money for the operator. Before EMS systems entered the foodservice world, these products were popularized by effectively saving energy by managing the HVAC and lighting systems for office buildings. Simple programs that would turn down the lights and air conditioning systems when the building was unoccupied were successful in significantly reducing energy bills. More recently, EMS vendors have been targeting restaurants because of the large energy saving opportunities of these facilities. Unfortunately, the intricacies of energy management in the restaurant space have made it difficult for EMS to gain widespread popularity. With climbing energy costs and monthly energy bills upward of $5,000 for a single restaurant, energy management is beginning to make a great deal of sense.

We at the FSTC are dreaming about what the EMS of the future will look like. One day, restaurant operators will be able to view and control the energy consumption of nearly all of their energy using systems, from fryers to freezers, from hot plates to HVAC systems. Allowing operators to control these systems will allow energy usage to be optimized in ways never previously realized. These are the areas we hope the EMS of the future to touch on:

– Lighting
– Refrigeration
– Ice Machines
– Demand Control Ventilation
– Kitchen Appliances
– Water Heating

By opening an application, you, the restaurant operator, will be able to see real-time charts and graphs depicting where your energy is being used and how you can save money. You can already do this with many systems on the market today with your HVAC and lighting systems. Ultimately, we hope that all of your energy systems will be under this EMS umbrella, saving the most green possible!

Knowledge is Power: Kiana’s Gift

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

bio pic 020208b smallerLast week, the FSTC said goodbye to our gifted intern and social media specialist, Kiana Caban as she headed back to college for her senior year. Kiana will still help us with our Facebook and Linkdin pages throughout the year but, her real focus now will be graduating with top marks and a winning basketball season.

Before she left, Kiana finished one final project that just might be the most useful resource she could have created for the foodservice energy-efficiency community. Working with our webmaster, Greg Sorensen, she put together a master ENERGY STAR web page that organizes all the ENERGY STAR resources and knowledge base into one location. Here is the link so you can check it out for yourself:

You can also access this page by going to the FSTC homepage, clicking on the “Save Energy” menu at the top of the page and choosing “ENERGY STAR”.

The beauty of Kiana’s ENERGY STAR page is speed. She is a wicked good basketball player and when she is on the court, all she is thinking about is the shortest distance to the basket and quickly scoring another goal. Speed keeps you ahead of the competition. Kiana applied that same strategy to her resource page. If you need to find a piece of efficient equipment; or want to benchmark your energy use; or want to see if your efficient appliance qualifies for a rebate, the shortest distance to your goal is to use Kiana’s ENERGY STAR page. Got a story to share about efficiency in your own operation? Check out the “Share Your Story” link at the bottom of Kiana’s ENERGY STAR page.

Kiana Caban our gifted intern and social media specialist

Kiana Caban our gifted intern and social media specialist

There is no longer any reason to say that you cannot find an ENERGY STAR appliance or didn’t know that your ENERGY STAR equipment qualified for a utility incentive. Kiana has given you knowledge and knowledge is power – specifically, the power to lower your utility bills and save money.

One other project that Kiana worked on in her last few weeks was getting the FSTC more Facebook likes. Facebook is a quick and easy way for us to communicate the FSTC news, such as new reports, blog posts, seminars, etc., to our friends in the industry. One way that you could pay her back for creating the very useful ENERGY STAR page is to keep those likes coming. In fact, I have a very nice, state of the art LED lamp that I am going to send to one randomly chosen person out of the next 100 likes. So, don’t hesitate – here’s the link:

Finally, if you really want to do something nice for Kiana, you can root for her as she pushes the Oregon Tech women’s basketball team to victory this year. Thanks Kiana. Go Owls!

Is there a Twinkie hanging from your ceiling? What your lighting might really be saying about your “sustainable” restaurant.

bio pic 020208b smallerRichard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

People who have seen me speak at conferences, workshops and tradeshows are familiar with my technique of using humor to make a point about energy efficiency. I love nothing better than to poke a little fun at some of the energy-wasteful things that I see in the food service world – not to be bossy or pedantic – just to lighten the mood and perhaps illuminate some of the things that we might all be doing better. With that attitude in mind, I hope you will indulge me as we ponder the question of “the Twinkie hanging from your ceiling”.

But first, a little background: I love good food and I especially love good, locally-grown, freshly prepared food. In fact as I’m writing this I’m enjoying a cup of premium “third-wave” coffee and a vegetarian egg brioche with fresh figs, greens and walnuts on a gluten free bun. (This would be the appropriate time for my burger-and-fries friends to have a chuckle at my expense.) I’m sitting in a beautiful sunlit cafe in Oakland CA and right across the street I can see the super-popular, nationally-famous restaurant that first inspired the idea of these dangling twinkles that I want to talk about.

This restaurant is super-popular for a reason; the food is amazingly good, fresh, local, and creative and the chef/owner is completely dedicated to his craft. I’ve had some of my favorite meals here and it was in this restaurant, while I was having lunch with lighting expert Derry Berrigan, that I was first able to articulate what was bugging me so much about many of my favorite local restaurants and bars. Derry and I were talking about the current practice of using antique-looking Edison style lamps in so many new establishments. These lamps are not our favorites. Besides the fact that the last time these lamps were fashionable was back in the 90’s (that would be the 1890’s) they are incredibly inefficient light sources and they add lots of heat to the space. To a sustainability geek like myself, these are charming little eco-nightmares.

In a flash of insight it suddenly came to me: “Derry” I said, “this chef, who cares so much about food sustainability that he raises his own chickens, would never pull a Twinkie out of the package, throw it on a plate and add it to his desert menu, but his ceiling is filled with these antique space heaters masquerading as lighting. Seeing these lamps in a restaurant that prides itself on sustainability is just as weird as seeing a Twinkie on the menu.”


[Now don’t get me wrong. I love a Twinkie as much as the next guy. They are a much beloved snack food with an amazing shelf life. It’s just that they are not exactly farmer’s market fare.]

“Derry” I continued, “I think that if this chef and all his chef friends knew that these energy guzzlers were driving up their utility bills and wasting natural resources, they would find some alternative and this nostalgia fad would fade away.”

Derry, who is one of the Nation’s top LED experts and a forward thinking lighting designer, had a quick comeback. “Richard, you have to admit that these lamps do add a certain quaint charm to the space, especially in an old brick building like this. What’s your efficient alternative?”

Okay, point well taken. Derry always inspires me to think about the big picture. So here are a couple of thoughts regarding these lamps:

  1. If you really love the look of these lamps, please use them sparingly and think of them as “quaint decorations.” Then, make sure that you are using the most energy-efficient lighting in the rest of your business.
  2. Check out some of the efficient alternatives to these lamps. Manufacturers like Switch Lighting, Rambus, and Plumen make some lamps with really interesting form factors.
  3. Consider using actual fixtures instead of just lamps on a cord. When did we decide as a culture that bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling were “good design”? An LED lamp inside a nice pendant fixture is a better looking alternative and the energy savings will pay for the extra up-front cost of the fixture itself.

The bottom line is this: If you really want to operate a truly green and sustainable restaurant, then you should not be lighting your space with the most inefficient, energy-wasting light bulb on the planet. No Twinkies on the menu – no Twinkies hanging from the ceiling!

Changing Course: Energy Efficiency, LEED and the Institutional Kitchen

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

It has been a very busy summer at the FSTC. In the next few blog entries, we will share some of the places we’ve been and lessons learned starting with the Association of Correctional Foodservice Affiliates’ (ACFSA) International Conference in Reno. Because of the FSTC’s participation with the US Green Building Council and our work on the LEED criteria, the folks at ACFSA asked us to come to their conference and explain the basics of the LEED program to the correctional foodservice directors.

Very few correctional facilities, including correctional healthcare facilities, have had any experience with LEED, so the discussion in the morning seminar was fruitful and went well beyond the basics of green buildings and into the purchasing and specification of efficient equipment. A subject that was later continued in the afternoon Equipment-Experts panel led by Ira Kaplan of Irinox Industries.

Here are a few of the questions, answers, and insights:

One of the audience members shared how she was discouraged by her superiors from getting LEED AP certification. They told her that LEED would be “dead in three years”. She was relieved to hear that LEED is alive and well and not going away. We talked about the fact that the first version of LEED was initially created in 1998 – not very long ago for an international standard – and that the LEED criteria were still evolving. The new LEED Version 4, that just passed ballot, will be out soon and will be simpler and easier to use then previous versions. We also talked about the fact that many state and federal building programs are tying new-building funding to LEED-standard design and construction, meaning that LEED will not be fading away anytime soon.

Several audience members also related how difficult it is to get people engaged in bringing “sustainability” to the institutional kitchen – a point reiterated in the afternoon equipment panel.  In the morning seminar we had to agree that it is sometimes an insurmountable challenge to get “old minded” architects/engineers to change their institutionalized thinking and incorporate efficiency or new technologies into their kitchens. So, we focused on the money argument and cooked up an example, using the FSTC online calculators, where the high-efficiency oven saved almost $14,000 over the low-efficiency oven in its 12 year lifespan. We all agreed that saving money is probably the best way to influence decision makers in an institutional setting.

In the afternoon panel, the equipment experts made another really important point: food service directors have a lot more influence over design and policy than they realize and it is time to “flex that muscle” with everyone from architects to manufacturers.

Steve Welborn, Food Facilities Food Planning, pointed out how important it is to have a knowledgeable food service consultant working on the design and that it is just as important to have the food service director on the design/planning team.

Peter Cooper, Middleby Corporation, pointed out the power of knowledge and urged the foodservice directors to learn about their equipment, how it operates, and what it costs over its entire life cycle and both Ira Kaplan and John Horvath, Heritage Food Service Group, stressed the importance of finding the right service organization to take care of your equipment so you get the maximum lifespan.

Jim Beach, the current president of ACFSA, and a person with lots of experience building correctional kitchens, made a point that resonated loud and clear with everyone in the afternoon audience: “Most institutional food service directors will only oversee the creation of one kitchen in their lifetime so it’s important to learn about the equipment, demand the best, and stick to your guns.”

The equipment in institutional kitchens is expected to last a long, long time. Value engineering appliances to save a few bucks on the front end can cost you many times more in maintenance, performance and utility costs over the lifespan of that equipment.


FSTC presents at SCAA Annual Exposition in Boston

SCAA 25th expo

April 12-14th Richard Young attended and presented at the SCAA 25th Annual Expo in Boston. Richard co-presented with Meredith Taylor from SCAA and (in absentia) Kirstin Henninger a presentation titled “Creating a Sustainable Café with SCAA Tools: a How-To with Case Studies” (

Richard had a great time at the event and met with lots of key figures from the coffee industry. Attendees were very excited about the release of the Energy & Water Modules for the Green Guide