Water – Way to go

WATER FLOWS through foodservice operations like there is no tomorrow– and if we carry on the way we are there won’t be. But don’t worry, help is at hand to stem the flow. Nick Hughes reports.

 

The complex and fragmented nature of the foodservice industry means that a business’s water footprint is much more than what it uses in the kitchen. Take an office canteen serving burgers, for instance. The total footprint encompasses not only the amount of water it takes to grow the grain, but the water required to feed the cattle, to clean the processing plant, to transport the product from farm to fork, and to wash the plates after use. The numbers can be huge, but that’s no reason not to seek to reduce the volume of water consumed at all stages of the supply chain.

 

For many businesses this will mean better sourcing of products and more efficient use of water in their direct operations; for others it means developing innovative water- efficient devices that do some of the work of foodservice operators for them. So just what are businesses doing to reduce their water footprint and how are equipment manufacturers helping caterers save water and money through product innovation? At a sourcing level, multinational foodservice operators are seeking to reduce the impact their operations have on water consumption across the globe. Sodexo, for example, is in the process of carrying out work to assess the water footprint of key commodities in its supply chain and to develop a strategy to reduce the impact of production on water stressed areas.

 

Starbucks, meanwhile, is zeroing in on the impact of its direct operations; for example ditching the oft-criticised policy of leaving taps running in dipper wells to clean coffee utensils and instead using blasts of high water pressure to clean equipment. The direct use of water in operations is often the ‘low hanging fruit’ that conscientious caterers can focus in on in the first instance before widening their efforts to look at water consumption throughout the supply chain.

 

In Bristol, the Bordeaux Quay restaurant has installed a rainwater harvesting tank on its roof, water from which is used to flush the toilets. The urinals, meanwhile, are cleaned with a blue ‘eco tube’ which works by treating the bad bacteria with good bacteria and requires just one flush daily. “Every night the cleaner fills a watering can and goes through every urinal in the building and flushes a can of water down it,” says restaurant manager Luke Murray. “I don’t know exactly how much it saves over conventional urinals but we know it’s a lot.” Murray admits that “kitchens are a more difficult area for us” and it’s more through good practice by chefs than anything else that allows the restaurant to keep its water footprint low.

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Of course, there are some simple ways for caterers to reduce their direct water usage. These can be as simple as repairing a leaky tap or filling dishwashers to their maximum; or appointing a water champion to draw up water saving policies.

 

Fortunately for the catering trade, equipment manufacturers are doing much of the hard work for them. Warewashing companies such as Winterhalter, Meiko and Electrolux Professional are constantly developing new products and processes that reduce the water required both in the kitchen and front-of- house. “Cutting costs is understandably high on everyone’s agenda across the foodservice industry at the moment and there’s no better time for restaurateurs to look to equipment suppliers to help maximise efficiency in the running of the modern kitchen,” says Stuart Flint, sales director at Electrolux Professional.

 

Common water saving features include sophisticated filtration systems, like the Winterhalter Cyclo Mediamat, which clean the wash water so it can be reused time and again during service. “Filtration has cut down water consumption significantly, for example, our new UC Series under counter units use only 2.4 litres of water per wash cycle,” says Paul Crowley, marketing manager at Winterhalter. “Because you use less water, you need less energy to heat it and less detergent, so the savings are even more significant.”

 

For pubs and restaurants with a high turnover of glassware and crockery, sustainable warewashing is especially important. Electrolux Professional has incorporated cost and water-saving innovations in its range of Modular Rack Type Dishwashers. The Ideal Wash System (IWS) removes the need to completely drain all wash tanks, which traditional washers require after long washing periods, saving up to 30% of water consumption. The IWS typically drains 15 litres/hour of dirty water, topping it up with clean water on a predefined basis ensuring that the dishwasher can operate all day.

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For Meiko UK, manufacturer of the superlatively eco friendly M-IQ flight warewasher among others, the quality of the water entering the machine is paramount for best performance and low maintenance costs. “Limescale build up on a dishwasher’s heating element will decrease its efficiency by some 15%, which increases energy consumption; the working life of the element will also be greatly reduced,” says Limited. “At Meiko we can trace 12-15% of breakdown calls back to leaks, timer failures or lack of salt within the water softener itself.

 

Meiko UK has just announced it is abandoning the use of water softeners in the future for its range of warewashers, concentrating instead on the use of more efficient reverse osmosis technology built into the machines.

 

“Water softeners have been superseded by reverse osmosis as our water treatment of choice,” says Bill Downie Managing Director of Meiko UK. “Softeners also cause serious maintenance bills for the operation. What pub or restaurant in the UK has never had to call in an engineer to descale the boiler of a glass or dishwasher?”

 

This type of continuous innovation from equipment manufacturers will be crucial if the foodservice industry is to reduce its water footprint in the coming years. However, buying new kit is far from a silver bullet for greater water efficiency. From the cornfields to the kitchen sink, where water is concerned, every drop counts.

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