The FSTC Takes a Ride into the Food Truck World…

Kiana Caban, Communications Assistant

KianaHave you ever thought of taking the wheels off your food truck and transitioning to a brick-and-mortar restaurant? Or, conversely, putting some wheels on your foodservice establishment? Not sure what questions to ask or what potholes to avoid?

The PG&E Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) recently took a ride to the food truck side by bringing in Chef Walter Abrams of Dabba to tell his story at our Foodservice in Motion: From Food Truck to Brick & Mortar seminar on Tuesday, July 26th. Foodservice in Motion focused on how to transition your food truck to a brick-and-mortar establishment while saving energy, water, and money along the way.

Dabba Truck

The Dabba food truck parked outside the Food Service Technology Center prior to the Foodservice in Motion seminar on July 26th, 2016.

Chef Walter shared how his Marin-based, East Indian-inspired Dabba (Hindi for “lunchbox”) food truck transformed into a San Francisco restaurant with all its accompanying challenges and successes. FSTC senior engineer Mark Finck discussed how the FSTC was able to help Chef Walter & Dabba achieve this dream and offered attendees tips and tricks for making their own transition to opening a restaurant.

Foodservice in Motion

The FSTC’s Mark Finck (left) and Dabba’s Chef Walter (right) present ways to attract foodservice customers.

Finck and Chef Walter did a Q&A session hitting the following four key topics:

Dabba food truck initially focused on taking the truck to different round-up groups (e.g. Off the Grid) in Napa and catering private events (e.g. Bottle Rock). Participating in these different events helped engender a customer following for Dabba. That was an advantage as Dabba’s restaurant eventually took root in the San Francisco Financial District, where professionals go out five days a week for lunch. Mark Finck also stressed that, “The best restaurants thrive on their location, location, location.” When searching for a restaurant location, an operator must consider the surrounding city culture, foot traffic, and local demographics.

Value to the Customer
Dabba focuses on serving high quality product to their customers – 90% of their food product is organic or pesticide free, which stems from building partnerships with local farms. When serving customers from the food truck, ticket time for guests is usually under 10 minutes. If it runs longer, they try to foster relationships with their customers while they wait for their food. In the restaurant, ticket times are between 2-2 ½ minutes. Chef Walter’s vision is to deliver “delicious, healthful food by including a higher quality service experience for guests. I want you to sit down and use cloth napkins and silverware, while a host floats around and connects with guests.”

Chef Walter’s central takeaway: “Food trucks are a great way to raise money, market your brand, and build a concept.” The Dabba food truck experience was a crucial step toward establishing itself with its customers and the industry before venturing into the restaurant arena.

Dabba Truck 1

Dabba food truck prepares lunch for FSTC seminar attendees.

Operational Cost
The FSTC’s Mark Finck discussed how choosing ENERGY STAR® efficient equipment can dramatically lower operational costs. When selecting equipment, appliances using less energy will still meet your cooking requirements while significantly saving you in utility costs. This is an important consideration when moving from a food truck with limited gas supplies and electrical power from generators. When transitioning to mortar, power is no longer limited, so utility costs will significantly impact your profit margins.

Chef Walter stated that Dabba food truck’s profit was determined by event location and the most lucrative events were the ones that had a fixed number of meals to serve (e.g. catering events). When attending an event that was based on customer draw, often times the amount of food prepped did not align with the amount of food sold, which affected Dabba’s bottom line.

Signature Menu
Chef Walter discussed how Dabba is inspired by a restaurant known as Avatar’s, an institution in Marin County. Dabba restaurant serves East Indian flavored tacos, burritos, rice bowls, and salads. They focus on serving high quality product with “ethnic confusion… healthy and bold flavors.”

Dabba Truck 2

Foodservice in Motion seminar attendees wait in line at the Dabba food truck for seared chicken rice bowls.

The Dabba food truck was on-site for the seminar providing attendees with the opportunity to taste Chef Walter’s unique flavors for lunch.

With so many different food truck attendees looking to transition to a brick-and-mortar restaurant (or vice versa), the FSTC hosted a vendor fair for the final part of the seminar. Vendors included: BlueCart, California Restaurant Association, Central Contra Costa County Sanitary District, Contra Costa County Environmental Health, Food Craft Institute, and Mr. Food Safety. Attendees had the opportunity to pose questions and start connections with these valuable foodservice resources.

The recent food truck boom has equipped many foodservice operators with an ambition to “go brick-and-mortar”. As this seminar demonstrated, the FSTC’s energy-saving expertise and numerous resources give food truck operators the support they need to succeed in any endeavor.

For the full Foodservice in Motion presentation, please visit

What is Sustainability Beyond the Plate?

Claudia Pingatore, Energy Analyst

The food plate gets all the attention…but often times there are many opportunities for sustainability in the back of a restaurant that go ignored…

The FSTC’s Richard Young presented Sustainability Beyond the Plate: Intro to Energy Efficiency on June 23rd discussing the fundamentals of energy and water efficiency for commercial foodservice, from the basic sustainable concepts to calculating utility costs.

The following are three audience takeaways based on the learning goals identified during the seminar:

Kitchens Should Be Concerned About Sustainability

Kitchens are resource intensive! They’re money intensive – costing billions per year to operate; they’re people intensive – employing thousands and feeding millions daily; and of course they are energy- and water-intensive. A restaurant typically has an energy footprint (that is, energy use per unit area) about 5-10 times that of office/retail buildings, and there are tens of thousands of restaurants in California alone! This resource intensity certainly affects your bottom line, but the collective impact puts a lot of pressure on our environment as well. Between what’s on the plate and what it takes to put it there, kitchens are in a uniquely influential position when it comes to sustainability.

Efficiency is a Simple Concept

While efficiency is just a part of sustainability, they often go hand-in-hand. And while sustainability is a comprehensive and sometimes overwhelming concept, efficiency is quite simple: it is how much product you can sell vs. how many ingredients you buy. The key here is to recognize that water and energy are ingredients. Just like oil or flour, utilities are purchased by you, delivered to you, and go into the food you sell—that is, if they’re not wasted.

Director of Education Richard Young presents Sustainability Beyond the Plate at the FSTC on June 23rd, 2016.

You Have More Power Than You Think!

Many kitchen operators think that high utility use is just a part of the job: “The kitchen needs what it needs and I just have to cough up the money for it.” But based on the FSTC’s almost 30 years of research, we can tell you that need not be the case.

Once you start managing your utilities like ingredients and looking for ways to optimize them, you’ll see that there is a world of opportunity. For example, many operators think that efficient appliances are too expensive. However, utility rebates can help offset some of the upfront cost and there are many scenarios where an efficient model can pay for itself through utility savings in just a couple years!
If you remember to look at the FSTC’s online tools or give us a call before you shop, you can avoid a misstep that will actually be “too expensive”. Consider attending one of the FSTC’s many seminars or check out our online training video library if you can’t be with us in person. The FSTC’s online tools and resources are accessible and easy to use, truly empowering the kitchen operator to spend their money wisely and practice sustainability “beyond the plate.”

To see the full presentation from the seminar, click here:

Fishnick Makes Footprints at the NRA Show

Kiana Caban, Communications Assistant

KianaOn May 21st, the FSTC team hit the road to Chicago, IL for the NRA Show 2016. Everyone on the team had different tasks they were trying to accomplish on this trip, from project meetings with manufacturers and attending various educational sessions to launching our Twitter account and our new online training program, Fe3 (!). It being my first time at the NRA Show, my goal was to build up our social media presence and attend several educational sessions.

On day one of the show we walked the floor to get the lay of the land. The first stop was the Frymaster booth where Frymaster received the Blue Flame Award for their Frymaster Integrated Oil Quality Sensor (OQS), a built-in system that monitors oil health and indicates when frying oil needs replacement.

Blue Flame Award

The FSTC’s David Zabrowski congratulates the Frymaster team as winners of the Blue Flame Award for their Integrated Oil Quality Sensor.

The next stop was the Kitchens Innovations Award booths where the FSTC’s David Zabrowski and Richard Young visited this year’s winners such as Vulcan’s Low Water Energy Steamers, Blodgett’s “Hoodini” Ventless Mini Combi Oven, and Champion’s Ventless Heat Recovery Dish Machine amongst many others.

We also stopped by the Rational booth with their impressive “pop-up” restaurant where Richard Young and I got to meet Chef Thomas Keller and ask him a few questions about sustainability.


From left to right: The FSTC’s Kiana Caban, world-renowned chef Thomas Keller, and the FSTC’s Richard Young.

Richard then participated in a story telling session, “Expert Advice Along the Path to Sustainability” alongside Chef/Owner/Author, Rick Bayless; Director of Sustainability and Public Outreach in the Americas of Asia Pulp and Paper, Ian Lifshitz; and President and CEO of LeanPath, Inc., Andrew Shakman.


From left to right: Asia Pulp & Paper’s Ian Lifshitz, Chef Rick Bayless, the FSTC’s Richard Young, and LeanPath’s Andrew Shakman.

They discussed the tried-and-true tips for beginning a journey toward sustainability. The following were the expert’s four key takeaways:

Rick Bayless: “Invest in staff because running a restaurant consciously takes teamwork. Once everyone understands the greater importance of those efforts, they’re much more willing to make the extra effort.”

Ian Lifshitz: “Take a holistic view of sustainability: from lighting, packaging, and napkins to water consumption and transportation practices, among other factors, to enhance and strengthen your sustainability success.”

Richard Young: “Energy (for cooking, refrigeration, cooling, etc.) is just another ingredient in your menu! Use it effectively and reap the cost savings! Start by swapping out a few old school energy-guzzling light bulbs for high-quality LEDS – it is easy to do and will save you money.”

Andrew Shakman: “Changing behavior at scale is an uphill battle…that we can win. Perseverance is the key ingredient.”

On day two, the FSTC’s David Zabrowski participated in the panel discussion “The Future of Restaurant Design” with moderator Joe Carbonara, editor of FE&S Magazine, and panelists Karen Malody, owner and principal of Culinary Options, and Marc Jacobs, partner and executive VP of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. The discussion explored how evolving customer expectations are changing the way restaurants are designed, outfitted, and operated. The one trend that each panelist expressed is that kitchens are becoming more and more flexible in smaller spaces.


(Left to Right) The FSTC’s David Zabrowski, Culinary Options’ Karen Malody, Lettuce Entertain You’s Marc Jacobs, & Foodservice Equipment & Supplies’ Joe Carbonara present “The Future of Restaurant Design”.

The FSTC team had a very successful NRA show this year and looks forward to another year of innovation and collaboration with the food service industry!

Check out our Facebook page to see more pictures from the NRA show:

Taste Test: Restaurant Operators Sample Fried Food While Learning About Fryer Efficiency & Oil Maintenance

Kiana Caban, Communications Assistant

WheKianan looking at your frying operation there are many factors to consider. What am I frying? Is the size of my fryer enough for my operation? When was the last time I changed my oil? How many times do I filter?

On April 26th, the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) hosted the seminar High Performance Frying: Get the Most Out of Your Fryer Operation. The seminar featured expert discussion of energy efficient fryer specification, fryer & oil maintenance, and a taste test demonstration where guests could sample food fried with various types of oil. The goal of the seminar was to equip the restaurant operator with the necessary tools and knowledge to optimize their frying operation for efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and food quality. Guests came away from the seminar with “Five Frying Must Do’s”:

1. Specify ENERGY STAR & California Energy Wise Fryers
2. Match the vat to the food product being cooked
3. Know your cook times and oil temperatures
4. Protect the oil – “CHAW” on!
5. Filter frequently with a filter card or better yet spec a fryer with built-in filtration.

The FSTC’s Todd Bell discussed the benefits of ENERGY STAR and rebate-qualified fryers. Bell walked guests through the online Life Cycle Cost Calculator for gas fryers to demonstrate the short payback period in purchasing an efficient fryer. FSTC test data has shown that energy efficient fryers also perform better and recover temperature faster than their less efficient counterparts. Additionally, Bell shared a fryer case study in which the energy numbers from replacing an old fryer with a new energy-efficient fryer showed significant energy and cost savings.


The FSTC’s Todd Bell demonstrates the commercial fryer life-cycle cost calculator on

Beyond energy efficiency, the FSTC’s Mark Finck discussed fryer selection, usage, and maintenance. Finck shared a case study that compared different restaurants and their frying menus. When looking at the comparisons, most every restaurant had French fries on their menu. Mark related that the first priority in selecting a fryer is to choose which type and size of fryer best fits your menu and operation. Finck discussed the difference between gas and electric fryers, different heat exchanger designs (e.g. side, tube, and flat bottom), and the various types of control panels you will see on fryers. Now that we have selected our fryer, it’s time to fill them up!


Mark Finck explains when to change fryer oil based on color, odor, and food taste.

“All Oils are NOT created equal.” Danny Klauer with Stratas Foods was the resident “Oil expert” for the day and discussed oil composition in-depth and how different factors can affect cooking oil life. Klauer discussed the process of oil creation from bean-to-oil and some of the different flavor options. He discussed the science of the much maligned trans-fat and helped define smoke point, flash point, and fire point for most types of oils. Lastly, Klauer shared the acronym “CHAWS” – Carbon, Heat, Air, Water, and Salt which are the five key elements that shorten oil life.

Let’s cook some fries!


The FSTC staff fries French fries and chicken strips in several different types of oil.

For the demo portion of the event, the FSTC had six fryers lined up with nine different oil types for guests to sample. French fries and chicken tenders (many thanks to Performance Food Service Group for the donation) were fried so guests could try a breaded and non-breaded product in each type of oil and note the differences in flavor, texture, and appearance.


Guests sample food fried with different oils such as corn, peanut, and canola.

Mark wrapped up the presentation communicating the path of a fry from the walk-in freezer to the customer’s table. He also shared different fryer maintenance and oil tips. When is it time to change your oil? There are many different ways you can measure when to change your oil, such as using an oil test kit, strips, looking at your oil, etc. Mark suggests “the best way to figure out if your oil needs to be change is by tasting the food you are serving.” If it doesn’t taste right, then you should change your oil. One of the best ways to extend your oil life is by filtering. There were numerous filter paper options that Mark shared during the presentation. Thank you to Corby Stow with Oil Solutions for sending us filter paper to share.

The FSTC looks forward to holding similar informational and interactive events for the benefit of foodservice operators and end users in the future. For a full calendar of FSTC seminars, please visit here. For the full presentation handouts for this seminar, please visit

The Food Service Challenge: Zero Net Energy Projects & The Often Overlooked Commercial Kitchen

Richard Young, Director of Education

Zero Net richardEnergy (ZNE) is the hot new buzz word in residential and commercial building. Generally defined, a ZNE building generates as much energy onsite as it consumes. In California, the concept of ZNE is more than just a cool idea, it’s the law. All new residential buildings must be ZNE by 2020 and all new commercial construction must follow suit by 2030. That’s a big challenge: we have less than 15 years to figure out how to radically change the way commercial buildings use and generate energy. We will only reach that goal with a mixture of accelerated energy efficiency adoption and a big boom in renewable energy generation. It’s not an impossible task – there are a growing number of ZNE buildings currently under construction and in operation – but it is not going to be easy. Building designers will have a lot more to learn about commercial kitchens before these projects can be successful. Here’s why…

Every commercial building contains some kind of foodservice operation. Larger commercial and institutional buildings, like conference centers and schools, have full-sized commercial kitchens. Hotel buildings may even include multiple kitchens. The challenge for the ZNE design community is that these commercial kitchens are very energy intensive – consuming energy at 5 to 10 times the rate of other commercial spaces. The Energy Use Intensity (EUI) for an average office building is about 90 kBtu/ft²/yr, but the EUI of a commercial kitchen is closer to 800 kBtu/ft²/yr – a great deal more than the 20 to 30 kBtu/ft²/yr threshold that is typically required for a ZNE building. If you are an architect or engineer, here’s an important message for you: The commercial kitchen is an energy gobbling factory hidden inside of your ZNE building that you must address if you want a successful project. (If you are a foodservice consultant, please make giant signs with this message and plant them in the front yards of all your local architects and engineers!)

The challenge for the ZNE design community is that commercial kitchens consume energy at 5 to 10 times the rate of other commercial spaces.

With such an energy hog on premises, why hasn’t the commercial kitchen challenge been addressed yet within green building initiatives like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program? The sad (but true) answer is that most LEED buildings consider the commercial kitchen an untamable “process load,” ignoring it as an inconvenient, but necessary evil. In fact, most of the time, the foodservice space is an afterthought within the overall building design. Surprise! Too often these otherwise sustainable buildings end up with some pieces of kitchen equipment that operate in the 5 to 10% efficiency range. This strategy might work fine when the building is judged on the basis of an energy model, but it does not fly when the building has to prove its merit based on a zero net energy bill.

There are three standard green building design practices that need to change before commercial kitchens can be successfully integrated within ZNE buildings:

  1. The foodservice consultant needs to be a part of the building design process from the very first charrette so that the kitchen space is not regarded as an “empty box to be filled later.”
  2. The building mechanical and plumbing designers need to work closely with the foodservice consultant to ensure that exhaust systems move the right amount of air and hot water lines are designed for minimum heat loss.
  3. The spec sheet must include only the most efficient kitchen equipment and every available high-efficiency design and control strategy must be incorporated in the kitchen package.

The green building world is on fire with new ideas, better materials, and inspired designers – it’s time to add commercial foodservice energy efficiency to the list of ZNE resources!

What’s Up 2016?

2016 Forecast

The FSTC’s Richard Young and Robin Ashton, publisher of Foodservice Equipment Reports magazine, present the 2016 Foodservice Forecast: Step Into The Future at the FSTC on February 9th, 2016

Every year, I polish up the FSTC crystal ball and create a Forecast seminar that looks at the coming year in terms of food trends, equipment innovations, energy prices, sustainability, and FSTC lab and field research. The seminar program also includes an economic forecast created and delivered by Robin Ashton, publisher of Foodservice Equipment Reports magazine ( This year the Robin and Richard Forecast Roadshow made stops at the PG&E FSTC as well as the energy centers at SoCal Edison (SCE) in Los Angeles and SDG&E in San Diego. Turnout was good, conversation was lively, and a lot of great information was shared. At the SCE event, Robin and I were introduced by Chef LaLa (, an amazing Latina chef, nutritionist, business woman, author, and media star. Was I star struck? You bet!


The FSTC’s Richard Young meets the amazing Chef LaLa

Here are some of the highlights from the 2016 Foodservice Forecast:

Robin offered up good news for the CFS industry: 2016 looks like a great year for business and here’s why: Employment is up and the numbers show the US at near “full employment”. Gasoline is cheap, which has put billions of dollars back into the pockets of the dining public. To top it off, “real income” has inched up just a little bit. This is important because real income has been flat since the meltdown back in 2008. To sum it up: working people with stable jobs and disposable income will go out to eat a lot in 2016. The one potential hitch is that Wall Street has been in panic mode since December 2015 – the bankers could possibly reign in investment and dampen the party a bit. However, as Robin pointed out, Wall Street and Main Street are two different things and if the bankers can keep cool, foodservice will have a banner year.

…Wall Street and Main Street are two different things and if the bankers can keep cool, foodservice will have a banner year…

The Forecast seminar always includes a look at the NRA’s What’s Hot Chef Survey to see how food trends are evolving and how that might impact the world of CFS equipment and energy efficiency. According to the American Culinary Federation (ACF) survey, chefs think the hot trends now and for the coming decade will include “locally grown”, “natural”, and “environmental sustainability”. The subject of “locally grown” spurred much discussion around the elephant in the room – the potential compromise of food safety as demonstrated by Chipotle last year. Food safety is “priority one” in foodservice and Chipotle is going out of their way to make “local” and “safe” fit into the same sentence. Everyone else will need to follow. The Forecast asked the question, “What might happen in the kitchen to ensure safety for all produce?” One suggestion was that we may see more equipment-based solutions like produce washers or increased safety practices like blanching.

…what might happen in the kitchen to ensure safety for all produce? One suggestion was that we may see more equipment-based solutions…

Another major trend that chefs agreed upon was “Chef Driven Fast Casual” which suggests highly focused menus and kitchen equipment packages that will need to be fast, flexible, and efficient. Also, small plates continue to be big business, which means that dishmachines are not going anywhere. The FSTC has been digging in deep on dishmachine energy and water use and some of the findings are surprising. Stay tuned for reports and seminars!

And, of course, food trucks are still red hot as both an entry into the foodservice business and a stepping stone toward brick-and-mortar for more experienced professionals. The California Energy Wise program – a workforce education and training partnership between PG&E, SoCal Edison, SoCal Gas, and SDG&E  foodservice centers – is offering several workshops this year on starting restaurants, food trucks, and small, fast, and flexible equipment. You can find all the dates and locations for these free events at

The California Energy Wise program is offering several workshops this year on starting restaurants, food trucks, and small, fast, and flexible equipment

Animal proteins are giving up more center-of-the-plate space to plants as broiled veggies are gaining popularity, which means that we need more high-efficiency, high-performance broilers. The FSTC will be studying underfired infrared broilers in the field in 2016 to see what the potential savings may be. Preliminary numbers suggest savings in the $1,000/year range.

More plants on the plate also suggest that there might be more steamers in kitchens. In the FSTC lab, we just tested three high-efficiency, high-production steamers – two counter-top units (Vulcan C24E3/5-LWE) and one two-compartment institutional style unit (Cleveland 24CGA6). These boiler-based steamers really deliver on food production and incorporate controls to cut energy and water use. One steamer even has a “set-back” mode that cuts idle energy and water use when the unit is not cooking. You can find hot-off-the-press research reports from November and December 2015 right here:

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Quick-and-Easy Tips for Saving Energy, Water & Money in Your Commercial Kitchen

Do you know how much energy your kitchen is using? Do you know where to look and what to do to cut energy waste?

The Food Service Technology Center’s Todd Bell shared his Top 10 Tips for Energy & Water Savings in Commercial Foodservice seminar last month, focusing on low-cost and no-cost actions that don’t require a professional to implement. By following these tips, you can take control of your own restaurant and start saving on your utility bill right NOW!

1. Conduct an Electric Rate Analysis

PG&E offers several different rate plans. Check to make sure you’re on the right one—if you aren’t, it could be costing you extra dollars. For non-PG&E customers, contact your local utility for information on their specific rate plans and online energy tracking systems.

For PG&E customers, go online to PG&E’s MyEnergy (an excellent resource for managers to track energy usage over time online), then to My Rates. Here you’ll see the estimated cost of each plan they offer calculated from your actual energy use.


But it doesn’t end with choosing the right plan – check your usage regularly to spot anomalies. You might find a leak, or something left on when it should be turned off. You can even overlay weather data to see if your usage is due to heating or air conditioning. The better you know your usage, the easier it is to manage.

2. Tune up the Water Heating System – Calibrate, Insulate, Regulate, Activate!

Water heating is a big energy consumer – nearly one fifth of the average restaurant utility bill. For many, it’s consumption could be lowered with little effort. Ensure you’re not wasting energy and money by following these steps:

a. Calibrate – Set Water Heater to Proper Temperature
First find out the delivery water temperature you need, usually dictated by the dish machine. Then set the thermostat – the below pictures show where it is on a gas (left) and electric (right) water heater. Finally, use a thermometer to verify the delivery temperature at a dishwashing sink. Some heat will be lost as it travels through the pipes, so you may have to adjust the water heater once more.


b. Insulate – Install Hot Water Line Insulation
If you don’t insulate, you could be throwing away hundreds of dollars per year. Insulation is cheap and rebated at $2 per linear foot. It is also easy to install, especially for exposed pipes (but every bit helps!). For best results, use 1-inch professional quality foam insulation.

c. Regulate – Turn Off Hot Water Line Recirculation Pump During Non-Service Hours
recircThe job of a recirculation pump (pictured on the right) is to keep hot water flowing in the pipes when it otherwise wouldn’t, so you don’t have to wait long for hot water at the tap. The downside is that there is some heat/energy loss as the water moves through the piping. So as long as it is moving water, it is losing heat. And as long as it is losing heat, the water heater is powering on to provide more heat. This is why turning the pump off when closed will save energy.

If you’re worried about adding one more thing to the daily to-do list, don’t; time clocks are affordable and can do it for you with a quick setting – potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per year. Set it and forget it!

d. Activate – Turn On the Automated Flue Damper
If you have a gas heater with an automatic flue damper – turn it on! Otherwise some of the heat that you just paid to generate is escaping right out the flue. It’s easy to do… just turn the switch to the automatic setting.

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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.

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.