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March/April 2009

Energy Efficient Food Appliances

Standards Make a Difference

It’s a great time to be working in the energy efficiency business because the world cares and listens. That’s according to David Zabrowski, chair of Subcommittee F26.06 on Productivity and Energy Protocol, part of ASTM International Committee F26 on Food Service Equipment. Zabrowski has witnessed dramatic leaps in the development of energy efficiency in the past 10 years.

Industry stakeholders established ASTM International Committee F26 in 1979 to develop standard specifications, test methods and performance requirements for food service equipment, which is used in the handling, storage, preparation, cooking, holding, display, dispensing and serving of food.

In 1987, long before green became the universal symbol for the responsible use of natural resources, Subcommittee F26.06 was established. “The big drivers in energy efficiency are good citizenship and good business because it reduces overall operating costs,” says Zabrowski, who is also director of engineering at the Pacific Gas and Electric Food Service Technology Center, San Ramon, Calif.

Both Zabrowski and F26 chair Dipak Negandhi, Unified Brands, Jackson, Miss., agree that they have a strong story to tell industry. Zabrowski’s work at the Food Service Technology Center is often credited with bringing energy efficiency to the commercial food service community. Negandhi, a senior engineer and designer of food service equipment since 1980, is proud of F26’s achievements and avidly favors the committee’s proactive work style.

Shooting for the Stars

F26 frequently interacts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s highly respected Energy Star program. “F26 and the Food Service Tech Center proactively talked up energy efficiency and food service equipment and made a compelling case for why Energy Star should look at food service equipment,” says Rachel Schmeltz of EPA’s Energy Star program.

“Today, energy efficiency is up there with productivity and labor costs in importance when users make purchasing decisions,” Schmeltz adds. The gains to be realized from the energy efficiency data include lower operating costs, less energy use and achieving more uniform results in the end product. Large chain restaurants and grocery stores are among the biggest users of food service equipment energy efficiency information, given their need to research competing bids before a purchase.

Developing standard test methods helps level the food service equipment playing field. Among the most significant milestones for the committee was the inclusion of F26 test methods within Energy Star specifications.

Energy Star began in 1992 as a joint program of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy; the program recognizes energy-efficient products.

According to EPA analysis of a survey sponsored by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, Energy Star has more than 70 percent consumer awareness today. The program currently has energy efficiency specifications for commercial fryers, hot food holding equipment, steam cookers, dishwashers, icemakers, and solid door refrigerators and freezers. Committee F26 standard methods have had a dramatic impact on the market and on efficiency-based rebates for commercial food service equipment, according to Schmeltz. “F26 played an enormous role in Energy Star. Without their test procedures we would not have had a basis for comparing energy consumption among models,” she says.

Subcommittee F26.06’s goal is to collaborate even earlier with Energy Star than is currently its practice. “We don’t want to be reactive,” Zabrowski says. F26 is committed to making recommendations to EPA for targeting and prioritizing them for the Energy Star program. Subcommittee F26.06 is in the initial phase of a project to create a grading system. The committee wants a say in what makes food service equipment truly “A-list” in energy efficiency.

According to Zabrowski, the subcommittee’s vision for a grading system is “to take the reins of the specification development process and establish performance-based thresholds for commercial food service equipment based on ASTM test methods that can then be referenced by utilities and the government in developing energy efficiency programs.” The committee wants to “begin recommending performance levels to our members,” Zabrowski says.

How F26 Does It

F26’s standards development work for measuring energy efficiency is divided among two of its technical subcommittees, including test methods from Subcommittee F26.06, which evaluate the energy consumption and performance of food service equipment.

After its first five years, F26.06 had only two standardized test methods. Now in their 22nd year, they have more than 30, accomplished through a truly collaborative effort with the help of manufacturers, sales and service agents, end users, equipment dealers and utility companies.

In addition, at only a few months old, Subcommittee F26.05 on Life Cycle Cost has developed one standard to date and thereby made a giant leap into a rapidly growing area. Among its users are corporations with multiple restaurants and manufacturers that favor it for use when making equipment choices. The standard, F2687, Practice for Life Cycle Cost Analysis of Commercial Food Service Equipment, includes a spreadsheet made up of different elements of the cost cycle such as procurement, service expense on and off warranty, operations expense and disposal costs.

The next phase of F26.06’s work will involve defining default inputs for specific pieces of equipment. These include usable equipment life, preventative maintenance costs, typical service and repair costs, and energy usage. Food service equipment manufacturers, users, teachers such as those in culinary schools and others will soon be joining a task group to provide data on the variables for individual pieces of equipment.

A daunting part of F26’s work is the setting of food service equipment standards piece by piece. The sheer size and complexity of food service equipment dictates a gradual process. “We have 34 different standard testing methods and we are just scratching the surface,” says Zabrowski about F26.06. “An example would be McDonald’s restaurants, where there are 75 different pieces of food service equipment. The goal is a standard testing method for every piece of it.”

In its energy efficiency work, F26.06 tries to reproduce real-world use of equipment and sometimes has to re-examine test procedures. Throughout the development of a test method, manufacturers present important viewpoints about the cost and procedures of testing. This and many other factors influence how the committee moves through the search for a test method. The persistent question is: What should a test look like?

“One of the biggest challenges has been to figure out what food product to use — it could have been pizza, chicken, etc.,” Negandhi says. “We had to try different products and get a consensus from users to find the most representative product to test that provides real-life equipment use and is repetitive in a test environment.”

Getting Closer to Griddles

With the goal of finalizing some standards every year, there is often a moment for the unveiling, a pause in the commotion when the standard formally enters its final stage. Many look to the National Restaurant Association meeting in May. It is among the largest and most well attended of trade shows. It can also be a venue for the presentation of newly finalized specifications by Energy Star.

The buzz may start earlier at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers trade show, where attendance is usually around 20,000. Charles Souhrada, NAFEM’s director of member services, often organizes meetings at his trade shows to help keep energy efficiency projects on track. Meeting attendees discuss how they can achieve the best and speediest launch of another round of Energy Star specifications for food service equipment. One such meeting will focus on the soon-to-be final Energy Star specifications for griddles and rack and convection ovens. “F26 is in the middle of all of these topics,” says Souhrada.

And Sometimes There’s Ice Cream

“The committee doesn’t like to let standards go stale. There’s always room for improvement,” Zabrowski says. Upcoming work includes the establishment of a database on energy efficiency testing within categories of food service equipment that flexes according to the user’s perspective. In addition, F26.06 has been working on the standards for a method to test soft-serve ice cream machines for energy efficiency. This standard should be approved in 2009. Negandhi expresses hope that this standard will be used as the basis for Energy Star ratings, as have many other ASTM standards. Over at Energy Star, the door is open. “We encourage F26 to continue their work because it is quite important to Energy Star,” Schmeltz says.


Andrea Smith has spent more than 15 years as a public relations writer for academic medical centers. She has also been a newspaper and magazine writer and editor. She holds a B.A. in English from Barnard College and lives in Devon, Pa.