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March 2008
SPECIAL REPORT

IMPROVE YOUR FRYING I.Q.
By: Mike Sherer

A little more than a year ago, we told you about some soon-to-be-released fryer technology that would make these kitchen workhorses pump out more fries, chicken fingers and onion rings with less energy than ever. Now that those and other high-efficiency products have had some time on the market, the feedback is positive.

Seems a lot of operators, however, haven't gotten the message that energy efficiency is "in" these days. Common objections we hear against high-efficiency equipment include high upfront cost, concerns about serviceability and reliability, and the biggest myth of all: if it saves energy then it must not perform as well.

So let's look at some misconceptions that might be standing in the way of you specifying high-efficiency fryers.

The Cost Factor
It's true that high-efficiency fryers generally have a higher purchase price than standard fryers. The difference can be significant enough that some chains spec both high-efficiency and standard fryers, giving franchisees the option to decide what they can afford.

Operators who don't balk at the purchase price, though, often do question whether they'll gain energy savings at the expense of performance, reliability and product life. All of these factors should be taken into account when making a purchase to determine the actual lifecycle cost of a piece of equipment.

Ultimately, the question becomes not whether you can afford the purchase price of a high-efficiency fryer, but whether you can afford the operating costs of a fryer that isn't energy-efficient. There's growing consensus that even if you think you can, you ought to think again.

Myth: High-efficiency fryers don't perform as well. Simply put, fryer performance doesn't suffer when manufacturers make them more efficient. Every fryer is different, of course, but tests conducted by the PG&E Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif., consistently show that high-efficiency fryers are just as productive as other fryers.

For example, after testing 26 low-, middle- and high-efficiency fryers, the FSTC techs found the average production capacity of the high-efficiency fryers was far better than the group of low-efficiency fryers, and equal to or better than the middle-efficiency fryers. In other words, you can fry as much or more food in the same time with high-efficiency fryers, so you won't lose money from lower production rates.

Myth: High-efficiency fryers cost more to maintain. Again, fryers are different, and every operation is, too. How much stress you put on your fryers depends on your menu, a store's traffic patterns, and a host of other variables. A common argument about high-efficiency fryers is that the energy-saving technology they use means they have more parts, so more can go wrong.

"Practically all fryers have auto ignition and solid-state controls these days," says John Schwindt, v.p. of operations at Hawkins Commercial Appliance, Englewood, Colo. "The only difference is the burners. People think high-efficiency fryers have more parts and cost more to service, but it's not true. I haven't seen a cost difference in repairs."

Jean Choquette, president of Key Food Equipment Services, of Burnaby, British Columbia, and the current president of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association, concurs, saying he has data to prove it.

When it comes to assessing the lifecycle costs of high-efficiency fryers versus standard fryers, "service cost is almost irrelevant according to the data," Choquette says, "so customers could look only at energy savings" to make the comparison.

Choquette studied three years of service data on about 160 high-efficiency fryers in one pool and more than 500 standard fryers in another, all ranging in age up to 10 years. The fryers are all in similar operating environments, he says. "If anything, the high-efficiency fryers may have been exposed to more stress."

Service costs were a wash between the two groups of fryers. However, energy savings for the high-efficiency fryers ran about C$500 to C$600 annually per fryer. (Choquette convinced BC Gas to loan free gas meters to a customer to measure energy consumption on a bank of high-efficiency fryers in one of its stores.)

"That C$500 in energy savings could represent about 50% of the cost to service the fryer," Choquette says.

Myth: High-efficiency fryers are less reliable. Like any other piece of equipment in the kitchen, fryers are only as reliable as the employees who operate and maintain them. Heavy use will take a toll on all equipment, but proper use, thorough cleaning and regular maintenance will make both standard and high-efficiency fryers last longer.

"I think high-efficiency fryers are absolutely reliable," Schwindt says. "I see units that have been in the field since 1984."

When a chain specs a standard fryer that's priced $600 to $800 less than a fryer with the Energy Star logo, it makes the return on capital look good. And to a franchisee with a half-dozen stores, $2,000 or more in equipment savings per store might seem very attractive. But if the energy savings on those fryers offer a one-year payback, and service costs are a wash, that franchisee could end up saving that $2,000 per store every year after for the life of the fryers—10 years or more.

Both Energy Star and the FSTC offer lifecycle cost calculators on their Web sites to help you figure out the total cost:


Saving Oil, Saving Money
Frying oil has become almost as precious a commodity as gas or electricity. The move toward oil that contains no trans fat presents you with a double whammy. These oils are more expensive to begin with because demand is still higher than supply, making both raw materials and processing more expensive. Non-hydrogenated oils also have a shorter shelf life and break down more easily than traditional frying oils, meaning you have to replace them more often.

Conserving oil has been a major focus of fryer manufacturers for the past few years, along with energy savings. Several new fryers introduced recently feature technology intended extend oil life, and this year the National Restaurant Association handed out three of its 25 Kitchen Innovations honors to fryers or fryer-related manufacturers. One fryer saves oil (and thus energy), another saves energy, and a catalytic device extends oil life.

LOV Design Delivers Savings
The hot area in product development now is the low oil volume fryer. Several models are available in both gas and electric. These flat-bottomed units typically hold a third less oil than fryers with traditional V-shaped fry pots, but produce comparable amounts of food. A 35-lb. LOV fryer, for example, will cook the same amount of French fries as a 50-lb. standard fryer.

Depending on the model, pre-heat and recovery times are faster in LOV models than in traditional fryers due to the design of the electric heating elements or gas burners, which again saves energy.

You save oil in two ways. One way, obviously, is due to the smaller fry pot. Manufacturers also have built new elements into the units to help you maintain the life of that oil longer, so you change it less often. For example, one of this year's KI honorees offers an auto-fill feature that detects the oil level in the fryer and automatically adds fresh oil to the vat when the level falls too low due to oil absorption by the product being fried. That keeps the fryer working under optimal conditions.

The biggest nemesis to oil life is oxidation. Oil contaminated by water and food during the frying process contributes to oxidation, as does heat. Manufacturers have addressed the latter problem with better designs of electric heating elements and heat exchangers on gas fryers. These new designs not only transfer heat more efficiently to the oil—again saving energy, and usually qualifying the fryers for Energy Star labels—but also eliminate the hot spots that break down oil faster.

The other feature that many manufacturers now build into fryers—particularly in the LOV design—is filtering that makes it easy for employees to filter oil frequently. Many filtration systems are self-contained, use no paper filter or powder medium, and can filter hot oil. You simply start the filter cycle and the system drains the fry pot, pumps the oil through the filter and returns it to the fry pot. Cycles are as short as three minutes, which means very little downtime.

Another piece of new technology designed to help you conserve oil is a catalytic device that uses ceramic pellets to help prevent oil from breaking down and reconditions it to keep it fresh. Heat causes oil molecules to clump together, making tem oxidize and break down faster. The "nanoceramic" material in the device de-clumps the oil, and the device only has to be cleaned once a week by sitting in boiling water for 30 minutes.

The other 2008 KI award-winning fryer technology is a pulse-combustion gas fryer. Once sparked, the burners in the unit are self-sustaining, drawing in a gas and air mixture and firing it automatically in as many as 80 pulses per second. The unit, rated at 70,000 Btu, has the same efficiency as an 80,000-Btu high-efficiency fryer with traditional infrared burners and the same production capacity as typical 120,000-Btu standard fryers.

Match Fryer Design To Menu
Not every fryer works well in every application, of course. The oil and energy savings offered by a flat-bottom LOV fryer are great, but not if you're frying heavy loads of breaded or battered product.

Two factors influence the kind of fryer you'll need: the number and type of menu items you plan to fry; and how those items are prepared.

If all you plan to deep-fat fry are French fries, you can select a fryer and frying oil that offer the best combination of performance and energy savings. Add a breaded chicken product to your menu, and you may be talking about a different fryer design altogether. Throw in something like battered fish or battered onion rings, and you may want a separate bank of fryers to prevent flavor transfer and provide better cooking performance.

Fry Pots: Three Designs
Manufacturers build fryers with three basic types of fry pot design: flat bottom, V-shaped with heating elements or heat exchangers outside the pot, and tube-type with heat exchangers inside a V- or U-shaped pot.

Flat-bottom fryers perform well when frying items that float on top of the oil (doughnuts, battered onion rings, etc.) or when frying products that aren't breaded or battered such as French fries.

The V- or U-shaped fryers provide a "cool" zone at the bottom of the fry pot where crumbs can fall and accumulate. That way, they don't burn or adhere to items being fried. V-shaped and tube-type fryers are well-suited to breaded, battered and seasoned products.

Select oil carefully, too. Products not only absorb oil they're fried in, the oil absorbs and is broken down by the product it cooks. Oils have different melt and smoke temperatures, as well as flavor profiles, so you may end up with different oils for different menu items. In an ideal world, it would be nice to spec one fryer model and one oil for your entire operation, but you could save money in the long run if you match fryer design with your menu.

Energy Star Leads The Way
High-efficiency fryers have been around for quite a while now, but until the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program got started, they weren't easy to identify. Until Energy Star set the specs for fryers in 2003, in fact, some manufacturers may not even have known their own fryers were energy efficient.

Most people now recognize that the blue Energy Star logo means a product that carries it is more energy efficient than the typical product in that category. For most products, that means being about 25% more efficient.

Since the program's inception Energy Star criteria have been driven by some guiding principles at the EPA and the Department of Energy. To develop or revise product specs, Energy Star has to show that the result will offer significant energy savings nationally, and they have to be able to document a product's performance and energy consumption through standardized test methods.

But the specs have to offer incentives to manufacturers, too. Product performance must be maintained or enhanced after efficiency improvements. Customers have to get a payback on the cost difference in a reasonable timeframe. Specs have to be fair; they can't favor any single technology. And Energy Star labels have to effectively differentiate high-efficiency products from standard products in a given category—giving you a marketing leg up, in other words.

The Fryer Stats
For commercial fryers, that means Energy Star-qualified equipment is generally up to 25% more efficient. Gas fryers must be at least 50% efficient under heavy-load conditions to qualify, and electric fryers must be at least 80% efficient. Idle rate of energy consumption is important, too. Gas fryer specs set a maximum idle rate of 9,000 Btu/hr. and electric fryers a max rate of 1 kW/hr.

The good news is that half a dozen fryer manufacturers have submitted products for Energy Star qualification. The list of qualified fryers has grown to more than 60 models and keeps expanding. For the complete list, go to this site: www.energystar.gov/ia/products/prod_lists/Fryers_prod_list.pdf.

Energy Star's Web site says that you can save about 28 MBtu a year, or an average of $185 for gas models, and 879 kWh, or $60 a year on electric models. Several sources we've heard from suggest the savings are far greater, meaning a faster payback and more savings down the road.

The better news is that Energy Star plans to develop specs for larger vat fryers—probably 18" and maybe 24"—sometime this year. That means you'll have even more ways to save energy, and utility costs, in years ahead.

To learn more about the Energy Star approval process, go to the program Web site at www.energystar.gov and click on "Partner Resources" at the bottom of the page. Or e-mail commercial foodservice program manager Rachel Schmeltz at schmeltz.rachel@epa.gov.

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