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Best Management Practice #11: Commercial Kitchen Equipment

Commercial kitchen equipment can be a significant water use in the non-residential sector. Water efficiency for commercial kitchen equipment is especially important because high-volume applications typically use mostly hot water. Ensuring that commercial kitchen equipment uses water efficiently affords both significant water and energy savings.

Water-using commercial kitchen equipment includes:

  • Commercial ice makers
  • Commercial dishwashers
  • Commercial steam cookers
  • Pre-rinse spray valves
  • Food disposals. 

The following information provides actions that can be taken regarding operation and maintenance, retrofit, and replacement options for each type of equipment.

Commercial Ice Machines
Operations and Maintenance 
  • Remove lime scale buildup and sanitize to kill bacteria and fungi.

  • Clean the coils to ensure the heat exchange process is efficient.

  • Work with the manufacturer to optimize the rinse cycle; ensure it is set to the lowest frequency while still providing appropriate ice quality.

  • Periodically check for leaks and condition of components; repair or replace any broken components and repair leaking connections.

Retrofit and Replacement Options
  • Check if ice machines are water cooled and operate with single-pass cooling. If possible, eliminate single-pass cooling by modifying equipment to operate on a closed loop that recirculates the water instead of discharging it. 

  • For replacement or new purchases of water-cooled ice machines, the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) has purchasing specifications that provide acquisition guidance and performance requirements. Specifically, they state that water-cooled ice machines must either be connected to a cooling tower or use on-site alternative water for single-pass cooling systems.

  • If access to a cooling tower and alternative water is not available, then an ENERGY STAR-qualified air-cooled ice machine must be used.

  • FEMP’s purchasing specification for air-cooled ice machines requires ENERGY STAR-qualified equipment to be purchased.

Commercial Dishwashers
Operations and Maintenance
  • Repair or replace any broken components and repair any leaking connections.

  • Encourage operators to run the dishwashers only when they are at full capacity and to hand scrape food before loading dishes.

  • Operate dishwasher at the minimum flow rate, and set the rinse cycle to the minimum time per the manufacturer’s specifications.

  • Observe final rinse pressure to ensure it is within manufacture recommendations, typically 20 ± 5 psi. If the pressure is too low, the dishes may not be rinsed and sanitized properly. If it is too high, they will require more than their rated amount of water.

Retrofit and Replacement Options
  • Install dishwashers with rack sensors to allow water flow only when dishes are present.

  • Check volume of service and size the dishwasher accordingly. Be sure to consider the energy tradeoff associated with increased tank heat that may be required for larger machines.

  • Purchase high-efficiency commercial dishwashers that are ENERGY STAR-qualified. FEMP has a purchasing specification for commercial dishwashers that provide acquisition guidance.

Commercial Steam Cookers
Operations and Maintenance
  • Use batch production as opposed to staged loading of food pans (i.e., do not continuously open the door to load and unload food pans). This uses a lot of energy and wastes water. If possible, fill the steamer to capacity instead.

  • Repair or replace any broken components, and repair any leaks.

  • Remove any deposits that may have developed in the boiler.

  • Ensure that the steamer is turned to stand-by mode after each use and is turned off during long periods of inactivity.

  • Periodically check for leaks and condition of components; repair or replace any broken components and repair leaking connections.

Retrofit and Replacement Options
  • Purchase high-efficiency steam cookers with the ENERGY STAR-qualified label or purchase boilerless (connectionless) commercial steam cookers.  FEMP has a purchasing specification for steam cookers that provides acquisition guidance.

  • Specifically look for steamers with improved insulation, standby mode, and closed-system design to ensure steamers are used most efficiently. 

  • Select a steamer based on projected use (i.e., balance production demand with steamer production capacity).

Pre-Rinse Spray Valves
Operations and Maintenance
  • Repair any leaks and repair or replace any broken or loose parts.

  • Ensure the hose height is adequate for the user so they don’t use alternate faucets that may use more water.

  • Train users to pre-soak heavily soiled dishes and to manually scrape as much food as possible prior to using the pre-rinse spray valve.

Retrofit and Replacement Options
  • Replace inefficient models with WaterSense-qualified high efficiency pre-rinse spray valves that are specified to have a flow rate of 1.28 gallons per minute (gpm) or less.  FEMP has a purchasing specification for pre-rinse spray valves that provides acquisition guidance.

Food Disposals
Operations and Maintenance
  • Train users to put large food scraps into a composting receptacle or the garbage rather than running them through the disposal.

  • When possible, shut off the water flow when the disposal isn’t being used.

  • Train users to refrain from pouring grease down the disposal because it will clog the system piping over time.

Retrofit and Replacement Options
  • Install a timer that will stop the flow of water after a designated time.

  • Install a load sensing device that adjusts the flow to a minimum flow rate of 1 gpm when there is no food present in the disposal.

  • Purchase/replace systems with load sensing disposals that regulate the flow rate based on the presence of food.

  • Use a food pulper as an alternative to a food disposal.  Food pulpers grind food waste into a slurry that is disposed as solid waste or is composted.  Pulper systems often are equipped with a recirculating system that reuses the water to significantly reduce water use. 

  • Use food straining system, which uses virtually no water.