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Get updates on great restaurant equipment and supplies that are must-haves in any restaurant or commercial kitchen.

Your Restaurant’s Guide To Commercial Composting

Every to go container, every disposable cup, and every plastic fork your restaurant uses ends up in a landfill somewhere.  Over the course of a year that adds up to millions of tons of trash from all the restaurants in the United States.  For most restaurants, these disposable items are a necessary part of doing business, and the lower the cost, the better.

Yet more and more restaurants are turning to compostable versions of these disposable items, even though they tend to be more expensive than their styrofoam and plastic counterparts.

Why?  Two main factors are driving the trend towards commercial composting:

Connecting with your customer.
Overwhelming majorities of Americans support sustainable products like compostable cups, plates, and food containers.  They may not be particularly motivated to spend more money for them at the grocery store, but when consumers encounter these products in places like restaurants, they tend to give the establishment high marks.  When you connect with customers on issues they care about, you’re going to see loyalty and repeat business increase.

Adding another facet to your overall green program. Whether driven by pure moral conviction or a desire to connect with customers (or both), more and more restaurants are instituting green programs as a part of their business.  The use of commercial composting and recycling systems have become widespread, and many restaurants employ programs to improve energy efficiency, reduce water use and carbon footprints.  Using compostable products can add a powerful element to any restaurant’s green efforts.

Person with green recycling binSo how do compostable food service supplies work and why are they so great? Some common questions and answers:

What does compostable mean? Compostable products break down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose (paper) in an industrial composting facility.  It may take these products longer to breakdown in a non-composting environment like a landfill, but in general these products break down exponentially faster than regular plastics and even biodegradable products.  For a more complete explanation, check out this article: Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable.

What are the benefits of corn-based compostable products? Corn cups and other compostable products made from corn are beneficial because they use a crop that is already produced on a massive scale in the United States to replace petroleum (oil) based plastics that rely on a substance we must import.  Corn-based products are also carbon neutral because the plants they are made from absorb an equal amount of carbon dioxide as is produced to harvest the crop.

What is PLA? PLA stands for polyactic acid, which is a polymer that is used to make a replacement for oil-based plastics.  PLA is made from lactic acid, which is created when the dextrose (starch) found in biomass like corn is fermented.  Today almost all PLA is created from corn, but in the future PLA will be made from other crops, including sugar beets, sugarcane, and rice, depending on what’s available locally.

How are sugarcane food containers, plates, and bowls made? Sugarcane has a long, fibrous stalk that contains a sweet juice.  Sugar and many other things are made from the extracted juice, leaving the stalk behind.  This leftover is called Bagasse, and it has traditionally been burned or discarded.  Disposable sugarcane products are made using Bagasse, taking a previously unusable byproduct and turning it into a fully compostable plate, bowl, or food container for your restaurant.

What does post-consumer recycled material mean? Post-consumer means the materials are recycled after they are used by consumers and discarded.  Compostable hot cups are partially (about 25%) made from post-consumer recycled materials.  Not only is it sustainable to use recycled materials, buying products made from those recycled materials helps stimulate demand, meaning more will be recycled in the future.

What kinds of compostable products are available for use in my restaurant? Corn cold cups (PLA), post-consumer recycled fiber hot cups, sugarcane food containers, and high heat PLA cutlery are all examples of products you can put to use in your restaurant.  Make sure any compostable product you buy is BPI certified, as this is the gold standard for compostable products.  Checking for BPI certification helps you avoid “greenwashed” products that claim they are compostable but really aren’t.

Using commercially compostable products in your restaurant has a clear marketing benefit for your business because your customers will appreciate your decision to use them.  If your restaurant has already decided that going green is a part of your business model, then compostable products are a must to round out your program.  If you haven’t yet decided whether greening your restaurant makes sense, check out The Back Burner’s Going Green section for more information on everything food service is doing to meet the increasing demand for sustainability in food service.

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The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety?

The EndoTherm ThermometerTo be honest, there has been a lot of skepticism among the people I have talked to in the restaurant supply business when they first encounter the EndoTherm Thermometer.  Maybe it’s the appearance: the oversized outer plastic shell, which houses a normal alcohol thermometer immersed in a special silicone gel, gives the impression of a child-safe toy, meant to be too big for choking.  Maybe it’s the purpose: the EndoTherm accurately reads food temperature rather than air temperature, which sounds a little hokey to the old hands in the industry.

So what is the EndoTherm all about, anyway?  Well, the official party line is that the gel around that regular alcohol thermometer mimics food product: when food freezes, the gel freezes, and the thermometer can therefore get an accurate reading of what’s going on inside your refrigerated product, as opposed to what the air around that product is doing.

Why is that good?  There are two official reasons:

1) Air temperature varies in refrigeration units, especially ones that are opened and closed on a regular basis, like display cases or prep tables.  A thermometer that only measure air temp is affected by how air is moving around the unit, and, especially if it’s at the back, away from the door, it could be reading colder than the food product sitting by the constantly opening door.  This could affect food safety, since it’s possible to have food sitting in the danger zone even though the air temp thermometer is saying everything is fine.

If you were to place a couple EndoTherm thermometers around your refrigeration unit, one right by the door and some others in the middle and at the back, you would know just how well food in different spots were holding temperature.

2) You might also have the opposite problem: you are running the unit too cold.  Again, airflow varies in any refrigeration unit and that can affect the air temp thermometer.  Warmer air coming in from the opened and closed door might be bumping your thermometer up a degree or two, causing you to turn the thermostat down to keep everything below 40 degrees.  And it’s possible that your food product is sitting at a very comfortable 35 degrees or so, unaffected by those little blasts of warm air.

Again, the placement of a few EndoTherms around the refrigeration unit might reveal that you can turn the thermostat up and still maintain food safety.  And every degree you turn up translates into an 8% savings on the energy usage for that unit.  Any restaurateur who has seen the electricity bill knows just how much money that means.

So maybe the EndoTherm isn’t so hokey after all.  This thermometer was dreamed up by two fairly famous inventors in England and apparently it has been all the rage over there, and is just now catching on in North America.  The reputation of the creators lends some credibility to the claim “accurately mimics food temperature.”

I think the jury is still out.  Skepticism dies hard.  I would love to hear from some people who have used the EndoTherm and have found it to be everything they ever dreamed of, and people who thought it really would be better as a kid’s toy.  If you have some real world experience with this thermometer, leave a comment below and tell us about it!

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Electrolux-Dito: Mix, Cut, Slice, & Cook

If your restaurant is short on food prep equipment, Electrolux-Dito can definitely help.  From the popular Bermixer stick mixer series to vegetable cutters, slicers, and big floor mixers, there’s a Dito for whatever food prep task you have in your kitchen.

A Dito Bermixer

Use Dito Bermixers to power mix whatever you’re making: sauces, soups, etc.  For bigger jobs, Dito’s line of planetary mixers might be more your speed:

A Dito Planetary Mixer

And when you need to prep vegetables fast, nothing beats Dito’s Mighty Green veggie cutter and other models:

The Mighty Green Vegetable Cutter

When you’re ready to cook, Dito has some killer pannini grills that can really spice up your lunch menu:

A Libero Pannini Grill

And don’t forget about the Libero line of cutting edge, top quality cooking appliances, ideal for catering and concessions:

A Dito Electric Countertop Griddle

From induction woks to electric griddles to slicers, mixers, and cutters, depend on Dito for a job well done in your kitchen.

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Krowne Underbar Equipment: Build What You Like

You probably already know Krowne commercial plumbing equipment.  If you have some Krowne faucets and sinks in your restaurant’s kitchen, then you understand that Krowne products are tough, well-made, and designed for a busy commercial cooking and cleaning environment.

Krowne underbar equipment follows the same set of production values.  The nice thing about this underbar equipment is that it comes in modular pieces, which means you can customize according to your bar’s dimensions and specific needs.  Check out some of their underbar equipment:

A Krowne Cocktail Station

Take care of everything your bartenders need with the larger Krowne underbar pieces like cocktail stations, two and three compartment sinks, and liquor displays.

A Krowne Blender Station

Add on modular pieces like blender stations, drain boards, and bottle storage units.  All Krowne underbar equipment comes in 1800 or 2100 series variations, meaning you can choose between an 18″ or a 21″ depth.

A Krowne 3 Compartment Bar Sink

Of course, you’ll be able to add on accessories like speed racks, bottle openers, ice bins, and a lot more.  All you have to add are sides and a countertop and your bar is ready to rock!

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Use Ice Machine Water Filters For More Than Just Ice

Filtered Water Faucet KitIf you don’t do so already, you should definitely consider filtering the water you serve your customers.  We have already covered water filtration here on The Back Burner, but if you need to filter a glass filler specifically, the best way to do so is with an ice machine water filter.  That’s because you get everything you need for filtering drinking water from a water filter made for ice machines.  After all, properly filtered ice is simply frozen drinking-quality water.

An ice machine water filter will remove cyst, bacteria, taste, odor, and sediment from your restaurant’s tap water, making it just as good if not better than anything that comes in a bottle.  Ice machine water filters also have a built-in scale inhibitor that removes hard minerals.

Any ice machine water filter will work for your glass filler, but I strongly recommend a Cuno filter.  Cuno’s newest filters are single cartridge affairs (as opposed to multiple cartridge systems like Everpure), meaning they take up less space and are easier to replace.  This is especially true because the replacement cartridge doesn’t require pre-charging and it can be plugged directly into the filter head while minimizing contamination and leaks.

Dual Port Manifold Water Filter SystemAnother option is to install one filter for your entire restaurant’s water supply.  Again, I find Cuno’s dual port manifold system to be the best around, especially since one filter and a scale inhibitor can filter 54,000 gallons of water.  This single filter can service all of your beverage and ice machine plus glass filler needs, and you can even bypass the scale inhibitor for soft drinks, which is required by big distributors like Coke and Pepsi.

You can also get a glass filler kit that comes with a T&S glass filler and a Cuno ice machine water filter.  No matter what, make sure you’re serving quality water to your customers.  Not only will they appreciate it, it’s also one more way you can make your restaurant stand out amongst your competition.

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Restaurant Kitchen Casters: Buy Smart

Casters make life in your restaurant’s kitchen a whole lot easier.  They allow you to roll heavy equipment around for cleaning.  They make your mop buckets mobile and power hand carts and loaded shelving in your walk-in and storage areas.  They even let you roll the trash out quickly.  The lowly caster serves many purposes, but what many restaurateurs don’t realize is how easy they are to replace, and, most importantly, how much money you can save by buying casters for new equipment separately.

A Heavy Duty Plate Caster

Most heavy equipment will take a heavy duty plate caster, but some may take a threaded stem caster instead

Let’s start with new restaurant equipment and shelving.  Any time you buy a new piece of heavy restaurant equipment like a gas range, a fryer, or a reach in refrigerator or freezer, the manufacturer will want you to buy an accompanying caster set.  Casters on this heavy equipment is a great idea because it makes cleaning your kitchen much easier.  An even better idea is to buy an after-market caster set separately, with the same weight capacities and heavy duty construction, at a fraction of what the equipment manufacturer wants to charge you.  Most heavy restaurant equipment will take a plate caster or a threaded stem caster.

An Expanding Stem Caster

An expanding stem caster fits into the round or square hole of a shelving post and expands so that it fits tight inside the hole.

The wire shelving you use in walk-ins and for storage are much easier to handle if you mount them on casters.  That way, shelving can be moved for cleaning, and the extra height will help you meet the minimum 6” space between the bottom shelf and the floor required by the health inspector.  Shelving usually takes an expanding stem caster.  And while we are on the subject of shelving, if you are buying some for your walk-in, make sure you get the epoxy coated kind!  The moist environment in a walk-in causes non-coated shelving to rust very quickly, which not only looks bad, it means you’ll be buying more shelving within a few years.

A Cart or Dolly Caster

Most carts, dollies, and mop buckets take a caster like this one, but some take a small plate caster

Hand carts, dollies, and mop buckets also have casters.  Unlike restaurant equipment, these items usually come already mounted with their casters, so buying them separately is not an option.  However, those casters often break or wear out long before the item is no longer useful.  Replacements are often hard to find unless you know where to look.  These casters are often very easy to replace, getting a replacement caster can extend the life of your carts, dollies, and mop buckets.

So the next time you need some new equipment casters or need to replace some old ones, remember that you have options, and if you look around, you can save some significant dough by buying smart.

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A Review of My Favorite Pocket Thermometer

Comark Pocket ThermometerAbove is an image of my favorite thermometer for everyday food service use, the COMARK PDT-300.

Here is why:

  1. It is NSF approved and meets the Colorado requirement for a thin probe thermometer to measure the temperatures of thin foods such as patties, fillets, etc.
  2. It reads quickly, in just a few seconds.
  3. It is reliable and durable, withstanding drops and continual use.
  4. The battery just keeps going…mine typically lasts about a year, and you can imagine how often I use my thermometer.
  5. Performing an ice water calibration is simple and takes less than one minute.
  6. The price is unbeatable…less than $20 at Tundra Specialties.

One question that frequently arises is where to place the thermometer when taking the temperature of food.  That is best answered by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in Annex 5 of the 2009 FDA Model Food Code:

The geometric center or thickest part of a product are the points of measurement of product temperature particularly when measuring critical limits for cooking.
The geometric center of a product is usually the point of measurement of product temperature particularly when measuring the critical limit for cold holding.

As a former health department food safety manager, I’ve used many types over the years, and in my opinion, it’s the best for the money for everyday food service use.  I regularly demonstrate it to my customers, and they invariably ask me where to buy one – the answer is easy; I tell them Tundra Specialties.

My name is Jim Austin and since 2001 I’ve been a food safety consultant in private practice, based in Denver, Colorado. I am a former Colorado local health department manager who was responsible for the food inspection program. I know how the world of government regulation really works, and I enjoy helping my customers deal confidently with the health department and protect their business interests.

For a free initial consultation, please contact me:

Colorado Restaurant Consulting

303-728-4878

jim@coloradorestaurantconsulting.com

http://www.coloradorestaurantconsulting.com/

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Color Code Your Food Safety Program

Color Coded Cutting BoardsBacteria, contaminants, and pathogens are all the enemies of your restaurant’s kitchen.  It’s a battle you fight every day.  The first line of defense is controlling the growth of pathogens that could make your customers sick.  That is best accomplished through a robust HACCP program.  Unfortunately, as effective as HACCP is at controlling pathogen growth through temperature management, there are many other areas where contamination can occur.

The most obvious is through food preparation equipment and utensils.  Food processors, mixers, and slicers all need to be cleaned regularly with an approved sanitizer to prevent cross contamination.  As for utensils, cutting boards and knives are probably the two most likely candidates for cross contamination, and it’s very important to your food safety program that you make sure different types of food are not coming in contact with each other through the use of the same utensils.

As you know, that’s easier said than done in a busy kitchen.  Serving food on time is the number one priority, and, especially during the rush, your line isn’t always thinking about cross contamination first, no matter how much you train them.

Raw protein products like beef, poultry, and fish typically go with red cutting boards or knives.  Raw vegetables go with green, and other food types go on white.  Many restaurants will also separate poultry from other proteins and assign them to yellow utensils.Color Coded Kitchen Knives

The added bonus of using color coded food prep utensils is that you also prevent taste contamination.  No one wants the juices left over from a T-Bone mixed with their chicken breast in a white wine sauce.  Potential allergens are also effectively separated when you assign specific foods to certain colors.  Shellfish is one of the most common culprits; many people can become violently ill if their food is in even passing contact with any kind of shellfish.

Finally, color coded labels can help your staff select the right product to pull from the walk-in very quickly.  Most restaurants use a First In, First Out (FIFO) policy, which is effective at prioritizing the oldest product for first use on any given day.  Color coded labels (e.g. red for “use now,” green for “just arrived off the truck,” and yellow for “use soon”) make sure you minimize spoilage and use your inventory in a safe but intelligent way.

Even in the sometimes chaotic atmosphere of a busy kitchen at the peak of the dinner rush, clear color codes can help staff maintain a high food safety standard that will keep your customers safe and coming back to your restaurant for more.  This is especially important in an industry where employee turnover rates are so high.  A simple color code system means new hires can plug into the team quickly without you having to worry about food safety being compromised.  Color coding your food preparation process will make your kitchen run more efficiently and safely, which means you’ll have more time to take care of what’s really important: your customers.

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The Poseidon: The New God of Digital Portion Scales

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The Poseidon portion scale: Submersible. Self-calibrating. Wow.

Edlund has long been known for their tough, durable kitchen equipment.  The Edlund “Old Reliable” manual can opener has been a kitchen standard in thousands of restaurants for years.  And Edlund portion scales have long been favored for their toughness and accuracy.

Luckily, Edlund hasn’t decided to sit back on their laurels.  The new Poseidon portion scale represents the forward thinking of a venerable old company.

The best part about the Poseidon is that this scale is waterproof and fully submersible.  That means you can use it, wash it off, and use it again.  Finally, you can get the accuracy of a digital scale without having to worry about the messiness of your busy kitchen.

I have even heard reports of restaurateurs running the Poseidon through the dishwasher to clean it, although this isn’t recommended by Edlund.

The best part about this digital scale is that the submersible feature isn’t the best part.  The best part about this scale is its revolutionary self-calibrating feature.  Used to be a digital portion scale had to be sent back to the manufacturer to be recalibrated.

Well, no more.  The Poseidon can be flipped upside down, where it automatically weighs itself and recalibrates accordingly.  Combine this smart feature with a stainless steel body, and you’ve got a tough instrument with a lot of accuracy.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

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How to Remove Hot Used Fryer Oil Safely

A commercial deep fryer is a vital piece of restaurant equipment in any kitchen.  But as anyone who has worked in a commercial kitchen knows, they can also be high maintenance when it comes to cleaning.  Changing the heating oil is a constant chore, especially in higher volume establishments, and while dirty oil means you’re using your fryer a lot, it also means it’s time to change out the oil.

Transporting hot deep fryer oil is probably not a very popular task for your kitchen staff.  Even more importantly, it can be a dangerous job.  The potential for skin burns is very high, and that’s a hazard and an expense you can ill afford.

A Standard Oil Transporter

The highest risk for injury doesn’t occur when emptying your fryer or transporting the oil to the waste oil container.  The highest risk is actually dumping the oil in the container, because that’s when a spill is most likely to occur.  A standard oil transporter is easy to fill, and provided it has casters like the one pictured above, is easy to move.  But lifting one full of oil and dumping it out safely can be very difficult.

A Shortening Shuttle Hot Oil Transporter

The Shortening Shuttle® is nice because, unlike a regular oil transporter, it’s easy to fill and move.  But the best part about the Shuttle® is how easy it is to empty into a standard 55-gallon waste oil container.  The top of the Shuttle® hooks onto the container, allowing your staff to lift the far end and easily dump the oil out.  All in all it’s a pretty well designed product, with convenience and safety in mind.

Assuming you use the deep fryer in your commercial kitchen pretty regularly, the investment in a safe transporter for spent heating oil is definitely worth it.  After all, one trip to the emergency room for burns is definitely more expensive than a lifetime of using the Shortening Shuttle®.

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