PRIDE: Your Guide To Oil Management
If you serve fried foods (and who doesn’t?), you likely know that oil is one of your most expensive ingredients. You also probably know that the better care you take with your frying oil the longer it will produce the crispy, flavorful menu items your customers come to expect.
You may even have an oil management program if you serve a lot of fried food. But a program to conserve oil only works if employees know how it works, and use it properly. If you don’t have a specific program in place, your staff may not even know how to handle and care for oil. Even if you have the right equipment such as filtering machines on hand to help them, they may not know when or how often to filter oil, or even how to preserve oil when they’re frying batches of food.
Oil Mgmt.: 101
If you don’t have a program in place, maybe it’s time to start one and get everyone on the same page of the cookbook. With input from a number of experts in the oil business we put together this guide to different ways of managing your frying oil, and best practices for employees to use with each (and even an answer to who shot J.R.).
Oil management systems consist of three primary parts: employee education and training on the do’s and don’ts of cooking with oil and maintaining its quality; methods or systems of cleaning or treating oil to preserve it and retain the quality and flavor profile of the food you serve; and efficient and cost-effective ways of disposing of used oil.
Fry Cook Oath
Because oil has natural enemies that, like Kryptonite, degrade it and shorten its life (see sidebar, “Oil’s Kryptonite”), employees who man the fryer banks should know the ins and outs of handling and cooking with oil. One of the most effective ways to extend the life of your oil is to educate and train staff to commit to the following:
• Have the fryers calibrated every three months.
• Skim oil regularly with a stainless mesh skimmer to remove debris and impurities from the oil.
• Keep the fry pot filled to the required capacity.
• Always allow oil to recover to desired temperature when batch frying.
• Filter oil regularly—at the end of each shift, or about every fourth load if frying fresh, breaded foods.
• Clean the fryer according to manufacturer’s directions before refilling it with oil; thoroughly rinse all components, rinse fry vat with water and vinegar, and dry completely before refilling it.
• Lower oil temperature to about 280°F during slack periods.
• Cover fryers after shutting them off at the end of the day.
• Overfill the fryer or baskets with food.
• Fill the baskets directly over the oil, or shake them over the oil when the food is cooked.
• Salt or season food over the fryer.
• Fry at too high a temperature (above 360°F) because the food will burn on the outside and stay raw on the inside.
Keeping It Clean
Holding oil’s enemies at bay is your first line of defense. But the very act of frying food will allow some of them to attack and change it, producing elements such as free fatty acids (FFA), peroxides, polar compounds (charged molecules), and trace metals that degrade oil. Removing these impurities from cooking oil keeps it from breaking down faster.
Filtering your oil frequently—at least once a shift, according to experts—will help keep foreign substances out and prevent the molecular changes from building up and damaging oil further. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this task and a lot of products on the market touted as the best way. The method that works best operationally in your stores will likely be the best for you, but here are a few tips to consider.
First, folks in the oil business often refer to “passive” and “active” filtration, where the former essentially means running oil through a filter medium (by gravity or pump), and the latter means adding a chemical or catalyst to remove impurities. A better way to think of these two methods of cleaning oil is “filtration” and “treatment.”
Second, one method isn’t necessarily better than the other, and both, in fact, are more effective when used together, which they most often are.
Filtration. Several types of filter media are available. Paper (the most common) and stainless screens (reusable) are very good at removing food and other particles from oil from 60 microns down to about 5 microns in size. Carbon filters and a patented fabric filter from one maker are good at removing even smaller particles. The special fabric filters particles as small as 0.5 microns; carbon filters typically remove particles about 1.4 microns or larger and have the added benefit of removing odor.
Treatment. You can choose from two types of treatment, often referred to as polishing the oil. One is by using an adsorbent material, which attracts and holds onto compounds that degrade oil. Some operators used to use diatomaceous earth to polish oil as they filtered it. The most common material used now is the amorphous hydrous version of synthetic magnesium silicate, usually referred to as fry oil powder.
To use it, you simply sprinkle a pre-determined amount on the filter paper in your filtering machine. (You also can add it directly to your frying vat before filtering.) The major drawback is that the fine powder can drift in the air and gum up other equipment in the kitchen. Many companies have made it less messy and more convenient by incorporating it into filter pads or impregnating filter paper with it.
Another form of treatment is a relatively new innovative product that uses advanced ceramic as a catalyst in your frying vat, attracting and holding FFA and polar compounds. Mounted in a stainless frame, it fits most gas fryer models. You leave it in the vat until it’s time to clean it (usually about once a week when you change your oil). To clean it, rinse it off with hot water, immerse in boiling water for 30 minutes, and dry thoroughly. The device lasts about three years before it needs replacement. As an added benefit, the maker claims that you can fry food faster at lower temperatures, saving money on oil and energy.
The more food you fry, the more likely you are to have fryers with built-in filtering capability. Though systems vary somewhat from one fryer maker to another, most offer onebutton convenience if not close to it. Most of you, however, likely have a portable filtering machine or shuttle that you wheel from fryer to fryer.
Fryers, too, differ in design from one model to the next, and each has its own characteristics when it comes to a filtering procedure. All major fryer manufacturers offer built-in filtration. In general, however, employees should understand the basic steps of using a filtering machine. To get the most consistent results, assign one person per shift—a shift leader, fry cook, etc.—the responsibility for filtering the oil, and make sure they’re properly trained. Here are the basics for a separate filtering machine:
1) First, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your fryer and/or filtering machine.
2) Turn the fryer off.
3) Make sure all parts of the filtering machine are clean and dry.
4) Connect the refill hose to the filtering machine. Plug the filtering machine into an outlet.
5) Remove the filter holder (hold-down ring) in the filtering machine tank. Put in a clean filter paper, screen or pad, and put the filter holder back in place. Add filter powder, if desired, according to manufacturer’s directions. Note: There should be no gaps around the edges between the filter paper/screen/pad and the holder.
6) Connect the drain pipe on the filter machine to the drain valve on the fryer and position the filter machine so the tank is under the pipe. Open the fryer’s drain valve slowly; if the fryer vat stops draining, use a cleanout rod to remove food blockage from the drain in the bottom of the vat. Turn filtering machine on.
7) Remove the grate over the fryer heating elements with the fryer cleanout rod and set it aside for cleaning.
8) Use the refill hose to carefully wash food particles inside the fryer vat down into the drain working hose around sides and heating elements.
9) Let the refill hose run around the bottom of the vat and use a non-melting nylon brush to scrub the interior of the fryer vat, including the elements. Rinse loosened grease and food particles down the drain with the refill hose, and wipe out the interior of the vat with a clean, dry cloth.
10) Close the drain valve on the fryer and let the hose refill the fryer vat. Add fresh oil until the oil level reaches the recommended fill line, and replace the clean, dry grate over heating elements.
11) Turn off the filtering machine, and unplug. Disconnect the drain pipe. Turn on the fryer. Note that most filter and fryer manufacturers today supply step-by-step videos; use them in training.
Time For An Oil Change
Experts recommend that high-volume frying operations change oil in the fryers weekly. When you change your oil depends on not only your volume but what oil management system you’re using and whether your employees are following best practices. But how can your store crew tell for sure whether it’s time for an oil change?
There are a variety of methods to test oil to see if its quality has diminished. The best determinate is the taste and quality of your fried foods. If your fried menu items taste greasy, aren’t as crisp, or have an off odor or flavor, it’s past time to change the oil. Other methods include:
Test strips. Relatively inexpensive, chemical test strips change color when dipped in oil. Kits come with colormatching charts to let you know how much life your oil has left. Laminate that guide and hang it by the fryers.
Digital bi-metal sensors. Similar in appearance to digital thermometers, oil sensors measure total polar materials (TPM) in the oil, those charged particles that degrade oil’s performance. A TPM reading of 25 ppm or more indicates it’s time.
Oil color. After years of debate, it turns out that the best method, other than taste, is the color of the oil itself. It’s the best indicator of how much TPM and FFA is in your oil. Color-matching charts or kits help you evaluate the life of your oil based on how dark it is. Just remember to filter your oil before you do any of these tests.
Waste Not, Want Not
The days are gone when you could justify dumping old oil out back (and hope your rodent infestation didn’t get too problematic). Most of your facilities now are likely within the service area of a waste oil company, if not a bio-diesel fuel plant.
You can locate a storage tank out near the loading dock or back door. Several models of oil caddies are available, some with hand pumps, others with electric pumps. Portable filtering machines can double as caddies, too. If your volume is high enough to warrant it, you can direct-plumb your fryer bank to the waste oil storage tank.
Oil suppliers often will offer you a credit on fresh oil if they have a used-oil collection service. Otherwise, you can negotiate directly with waste oil companies or bio-diesel plants for oil collection.
Total Oil Management
A number of companies, both local and national, specialize in providing a total oil management package that provides you with fresh oil, helps you keep it in good condition during its useful life, and collects it when you change it out.
One model, usually offered by oil suppliers, lets you lease fresh and used oil storage tanks if you sign up for a long-term contract, provides the fresh oil, and collects the used oil. Another model lets you purchase the equipment, from a used oil storage tank and a rack system for lugs or boxes of oil you purchase from your distributor, to filtering machines on an a la carte basis.
In both cases, the fresh oil often is plumbed directly to the fryers; used-oil tanks may or may not be plumbed directly. The systems offer an auto-fill feature that adds fresh oil to fryer vats when it senses they need topping off, and often includes a web-based monitoring program that gives you data to track when oil needs filtering or changing, as well as volume used in each store which you can compare to actual food volume fried. Monitoring typically is offered on a subscription basis but the picture the data reveals can result in a compelling ROI.
Systems can measure waste oil going into the disposal tank and record credits you should receive. The data also tells you how much oil you’re “losing” through absorption into the foods so you can adjust filtering schedules, cooking procedures, type of oil you’re using or even product recipes.
These systems can email alerts to your computer or mobile device or upload them to a website, and can even send them to your oil supplier and/or recycler when it’s time to replenish the bulk fresh oil supply or collect waste oil from a full tank.
With so many oil management options available you’re sure to find one that fits your needs based on your frying equipment, your volume and your operational requirements. Whatever you choose, make sure your employees know what it is and best practices to use to make it as effective as possible. That’s like money in the bank…of fryers, that is.
• Air. Oil oxidizes when exposed to air. Keep fryers covered when not in use.
• Heat. It oxidizes even faster at higher temperatures. Employees fry most foods between 325°F-350°F, but the rate of oxidation more than doubles between the low and high ends of that range.
• Moisture. Water is oil’s mortal enemy—they just don’t mix!—and probably the biggest factor in breakdown of your oil since the cooking process draws moisture out of food. Don’t add to your woes by loading fry baskets with wet or frozen items over the vat.
• Food particles. Likewise, food particles promote break down. Skim vats often.
• Trace metals. These contribute to both oxidation and polymerization. Filter and/or treat oil regularly.
• Cleaning agents. Chemicals also speed oil breakdown. Use only cleaning agents recommended by fryer makers, and follow directions carefully to remove all traces after the cleaning process.
Be Safe Out There
Frying oil may well be the leading cause of restaurant employee workers’ compensation claims as a result of slips and falls and burns. Make sure you have a safety code for staff and the equipment and supplies on hand to help them practice it.
…carry containers that hold hot oil.
…spill grease while changing or filtering the grease.
…drop food into hot oil or cause it to splash.
…allow oil to cool as much as possible before handling.
…use proper protective equipment while operating the deep fat fryer (aprons, thermal rubber gloves, goggles, etc.).
…clean up oil spills on floors and nearby surfaces immediately with warm, soapy water; rinse, then dry.
…turn off fryers as soon as possible in case of emergency.