As we head into the warmer months, ensuring that cold stores and refrigeration equipment are functioning at their optimum capability becomes more important than ever. Shaun Evers, managing director of Stonegate Instruments, outlines how the use of technology can help reduce food waste this summer
Research shows that in the first week of the school summer holidays, food worth around £12m will be thrown away. While much of this is down to families clearing out their fridges before heading off on their break, this snapshot serves to illustrate the real cost of food waste in the UK.
The waste and recycling body WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimates that the cost of food waste from our hospitality and foodservice sector is around £3 billion a year. Of the 920,000 tonnes of food consigned to the bin, it is estimated 75% could have been eaten, according to the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
As the weather warms up, it is more pertinent than ever to ensure that cold stores are working at their optimum capacity. Staff training, portion size and creative menu planning all have a role to play; however, in addition to a shift in behaviour, the use of technology is helping address the issue of food waste for a vast range of catering organisations, particularly when it comes to ensuring that refrigeration equipment is functioning correctly.
Close the door on waste
Commercial kitchens can reap a number of benefits from optimising equipment efficiency. Properly maintained refrigerators, working at the right temperature and without potentially harmful gas leaks, keep food fresh for longer, ensuring it is served at its peak quality and the amount of spoilage is reduced.
Poor maintenance of cold storage areas leads to increased energy consumption, which is estimated to cost British industry around £300m a year. Over-filled fridges, inefficient temperature control, doors accidentally being left open and refrigerant gas leaks all affect the operating efficiency of a refrigerated system.
The latest technology has seen simple yet highly effective devices developed that can help reduce waste through maximising cold store equipment efficiency, cutting spoilage at all stages of the cold chain, from distribution to commercial refrigerators.
A simple way to determine whether equipment is cool enough is to install an easily visible temperature display. These give a clear indication of the temperature within a cold store or refrigerator and should be bright and easily readable from a distance, alerting staff to any fluctuations that may herald potential problems.
Leaving a door open means the refrigeration system has to work harder to stay at the right temperature, using more energy and in turn driving up costs. An easy way to prevent doors from accidentally being left open is to fit an alarm. These wall-mounted accessories use flashing lights and 100dB sounders to alert staff that a door has been left open.
Reducing refrigerant gas leaks
Leaks of refrigerant gas are dangerous for a variety of reasons, not least because they often go undetected as the gases in question are odour-free and cannot be seen. When a leak occurs, it impacts on the performance of the cooling equipment, putting food at risk of being spoiled.
Exposure to such gases can result in some nasty side effects for workers, with symptoms ranging from irritation of the throat, eyes and skin to frostbite, chemical burns and – in the most severe cases – lung and brain damage.
Leaks also damage the environment, with the Carbon Trust estimating a leak of just 1kg of refrigerant gas can have the same impact as a van driving for 10,000 miles.
While it is impossible to predict when a leak may happen, technology means an incident can be identified the moment one does occur, enabling staff to pinpoint the cause and make necessary repairs before either workforce or the environment is affected.
The latest EU regulations stipulate that equipment with 300kg or more of refrigerants be fitted with a leak detector. These detectors must have a sensitivity of 5g/year and should be checked after 25 hours of continuous use and calibrated with a 1,000ppm gas to air mix.
The latest gas detection systems can be programmed to detect a wide range of both toxic and non-toxic gases, including HFCs. These sophisticated detectors alert workers with audio and visual alarms and have a battery back-up system in the case of power failure.
LED colours can be used to indicate the status of each sensor. These are arranged in different zones, so in the event of a gas leak, it can be swiftly identified and repaired.
As regulations on the use of refrigerant gases become increasingly stringent, technology exists to help catering businesses combat potentially harmful emissions and reduce food waste. Even the most sophisticated devices on the market have a return on investment time of just two years, therefore installing technology to monitor leaks in cold storage offers a simple yet effective solution for operators in any sector.
Stonegate Instruments designs, develops and manufactures electronic equipment for the refrigeration industry. The company’s products are proven to reduce energy usage, carbon emissions and the associated costs. For further information, visit www.stonegate-instruments.com