Food For Thought

By Janet Brown, Practice Greenhealth's Director of Facility Engagement and Director Content and Outreach, Healthier Hospitals Initiative, and Paul Kuck, restauranteur on March 5, 2013

Energy savings in the kitchen—what more can your facility do?

According to the Department of Energy, food services has the highest energy intensity of any sector, followed by health care. Seems like fair incentive for taking a closer look at how health care food service operations are working toward energy reduction goals. But it was tough to find a hospital interested in highlighting their kitchen—even hospitals that were quite proud of their energy conservation achievements voiced frustration over their outdated food service equipment and lack of success in making the case to leadership. Kitchens, with their basement real estate, may not be accustomed to the attention of lobbies and patient care areas, but investment in energy- and water-efficient equipment will pay for itself. With dramatic changes in food preparation and consumer expectations around healthier food choices, hospitals would benefit by taking a closer look and designing for flexibility.

In the spirit of efficiency, I found a fantastic site for energy and water efficiency in food service operations This column features the site, its recommendations, and links to helpful sites for ENERGY STAR equipment and rebate information. Thank you to restauranteur Paul Kuck, who developed the site while researching ways to improve the performance of his own restaurant kitchen.

The Sustainable Food Services website shares some of the top opportunities for energy conservation in food services. Not building or renovating your kitchen right now? Many of these big-ticket items can be done to existing kitchens as part of an equipment assessment and retrofit. Don’t forget to look for those tax rebates and incentives!

Preventative Maintenance

Keeping your cafeteria and kitchen running smoothly will help save energy. A regular, documented cleaning and maintenance schedule will help keep equipment running longer and more efficiently. A refrigerator with dirty coils uses up to 23 percent more energy, 11 percent more with a bad door seal and up to 100 percent more with a refrigerant leak. To fix problems like these, create a schedule of weekly, monthly, and annual dates to calibrate, clean, and inspect all the equipment in the house.

Timely upgrades are also a piece of an energy efficiency program. Old equipment may be so inefficient that upgrading to energy-efficient equipment may be a more cost-effective solution than repairing, even in the short run. It’s a good idea to investigate energy-efficient alternatives for all your facility’s equipment so if a piece of equipment dies, you don’t have to risk scrambling to find an efficient replacement or winding up with another standard efficiency unit.

Efficient Commercial Kitchen Equipment

Food preparation makes up the largest percentage of a food service’s energy bill— about 30 percent, with refrigeration costs running somewhere around 13 to 18 percent. Then there’s the water heater, exhaust hoods, and HVAC systems, which together total the majority of energy used in a food service facility. These huge costs make efficient and properly maintained equipment an integral part of a green food-service establishment.

On the efficiency side, there is a growing amount of commercial food-service equipment available that is ENERGY STAR labeled or deemed highly efficient by research organizations like the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) and the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE). These three organizations, along with equipment manufacturers, are paving the way for mainstream efficiency standards in commercial kitchen equipment. Currently the types of equipment that have been tested and rated are limited to a small group. ENERGY STAR is in the process of expanding the programs to include walk-in refrigeration units, and is updating the standards of several of the existing products. Additionally, ENERGY STAR’s sister program, Water Sense, has created standards for pre-rinse spray valves, which will soon be able to carry the Water Sense label. Hopefully, with continued support, the industry will see all commercial kitchen equipment manufactured with not only quality and value in mind, but also energy and water efficiency.

Cooking Equipment

The FSTC provides a diverse list of cooking equipment that has undergone their efficiency testing. This includes combination ovens, convection ovens, rack ovens, fryers, large vat fryers, griddles, steam cookers, and insulated holding cabinets. ENERGY STAR cooking equipment includes fryers, steam cookers, and hot food holding cabinets.

Steam cookers in particular offer a huge savings for both energy and water.

These are a good place to start when switching over to energy-efficient units. Convection ovens also offer great energy savings, along with big rebates. Incentives in California and Oregon are as high as a $1,000 per unit, which is almost a third of the cost of some units. If starting from scratch, there’s no reason not to choose efficient equipment throughout the cooking line. There is a large and growing selection of prices and options that should fit any chef’s needs.

HHI Leaner Energy

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) Leaner Energy Challenge sets the goal of working with ENERGY STAR to establish an energy baseline and track energy conservation successes. The levels of the challenge are 3, 5, and 10 percent reduction from baseline year. HHI allows facilities to identify their own baseline year, depending on when they started their energy work. Hospitals have set lofty energy conservation goals around energy, and HHI has a community of case studies, webinars and a how-to guide to help your facility meet its energy goals. If your facility is working with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, then the HHI Leaner Energy Challenge requires no additional data entry. Join us! You can see the full list of enrollees here:


Sustainable Food Services website:

Food Service Equipment and Supplies:

Harvard Case Study: /Mather_Dunster_Case_Study.pdf

DSIRE (a comprehensive source of information on state, federal, local, and utility incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency):

Food Service Technology Center:

Healthier Hospitals Initiative: