The cooking oil process can be highly inefficient. If you’re still managing your cooking oil manually, it can be wasteful, messy, expensive, and bad for the environment. Sustainability has become a priority for many, but it goes beyond good corporate citizenship. Customers are increasingly seeking out sustainable businesses. That’s why we’ve put together some recommendations on how to make frying sustainable.
What Are You Supposed to Do with Used Cooking Oil?
Deep frying has been a staple of restaurant kitchens for as long as restaurants have been around. People have buried grease in the ground or tossed it in the trash. Some corner-cutting operators even dispose of waste oil down the drain — an illegal but not uncommon shortcut that can cause big problems for the business and its municipality. None of these practices are sustainable or environmentally-friendly. In recent years, alternative oil disposal methods have started to become much more common. Many restaurateurs have grease taken away to a landfill or facility that can process it.
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Easy Oil Management Makes Frying More Sustainable
Since cooking oil recycling methods have improved and conversion to biodiesel is relatively easy, used fryer oil is now a valuable commodity — what a difference compared to a couple decades ago. When Lou Meyer, vice president of operations for The Briad Group, a large franchisee of Wendy’s Hamburgers and TGI Friday’s restaurants, began testing a closed-loop fryer oil management system from Restaurant Technologies years ago, he realized it could revolutionize his restaurant operations. The system made the entire cooking oil process easy: tracking, filtering, disposing, and adding fresh oil.
“It uses two tanks which carry 1,500 pounds of oil — one with new oil, one for waste oil,” Meyer says. “A truck comes to the outside of the restaurant, hooks up to the used oil tank, sucks it out and then hooks up to the fresh oil tank to fill it up. Nobody even has to be at the restaurant when it happens.” Using a data link, the system’s tanks automatically notify Restaurant Technologies when fresh oil needs refilling and waste oil needs trucking away. Mike Keeler, a consultant on restaurant safety strategy, says employees who aren’t injured on the job changing oil are happier employees who are more inclined to do their jobs well. He says removing and replacing oil at the push of a button is a more pleasant alternative to hauling 50-pound boxes of replacement oil to a kitchen. Ultimately, he adds, sustainability also can encompass employee retention.
“If they don’t want to do that, and nobody does, they’ll not filter it as frequently as they should or change it as often as they should, and that ruins the oil,” he says. “When you have a closed-loop system that does it for you, you also don’t have the issues of strains, sprains and slips that, historically speaking, fryers are related to. That’s just a better place to work.”
More Oil Mileage = More Sustainable Frying
Oil that is managed well lasts longer, and as a result, is more sustainable. When filtered regularly and heated correctly, oil lasts longer, cooks foods better, and becomes less expensive in the long run. Additionally, with automated, high-tech frying systems, the risk of employee waste from spillage is eliminated. Meyer says that years ago knowing whether the oil had been filtered was a complete guessing game. Now the system provides visibility — triggering an alert to let managers know if filtration hasn’t occurred or there has been an increased amount of oil usage outside of their normal levels. Using an online portal, Meyer can even check on fryer oil quality in any of his restaurants.
“The system is online and tells me how many times a day they’re filtering, which is something I could never do on my own with all the restaurants we have,” he says. “It tells me how much oil each one is using, who’s using too much and who’s using too little.”
Is Recycling Cooking Oil Sustainable?
Since installing Restaurant Technologies’ automated Total Oil Management system, oil recycling has become a huge part of The Corner Office Restaurant & Martini Bar’s sustainability initiatives.
“Living in Colorado, sustainability and recycling are a large part of what we do,” says Eric Friedman, the sous chef at The Corner Office. “Employees see the oil recycling as another benefit of the system.”
It’s easy to see why. Used cooking oil that’s recycled into biodiesel is compatible with regular diesel engines — there’s no special engine or retrofitting required. Not only that, but biodiesel is much cleaner than petroleum diesel. The EPA estimates that biodiesel emits 11% less carbon dioxide, 10% less particulate matter, and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 78%. Biodiesel also causes far less damage if spilled or released into the environment. Any way you look at it, that’s a massive step in the right direction, and an enormous opportunity to make frying more sustainable across the globe.