Sustainable Practices: Down the Drain

by Dan Malovany
Share This:

With rising commodity prices poised to dent their bottom lines this year, bakers and snack manufacturers are looking for any way possible to lower their fixed costs. Going green through sustainability programs that focus on water efficiency and conservation can provide significant savings in the long run, especially in areas where the cost of water is higher than the national average.

In these days of tight margins and deep discounting, however, the timetable for return on investment has become increasingly short — in many cases two years, one year or less. Today, many businesses don’t have the luxury or patience to invest in sustainable projects with a 7-year payback. While it’s true that every penny saved is a penny earned, companies simply don’t want to spend a plug nickel to get such a small or long-term return.

Actually, many bakeries — especially bread producers that don’t use as much water as meat and other food companies — don’t have to invest much money to rack up significant savings in their water usage. Many times, the most critical move starts with benchmarking their water use, according to David Dixon, senior director, strategic accounts, Burns & McDonnell, an engineering firm based in Kansas City, MO. Data-based decision making, he added, provides the fundamental platform for a sustainability program because it identifies buried costs in baking and snack operations. “If you capture all of your costs, things that are hidden in your utility bills, you can make these decisions based on the actual cost of the water in the process and the cost of water to dispose of it,” he said. “Sometimes, you don’t have a platform to capture all of your costs.”

Such benchmarking can result in basic changes in processes and procedures to create ongoing savings that add up to big savings in the long run, noted Anne Giesecke, PhD, president of A & D Policy Analysis Inc., Sarasota, FL, and a Baking & Snack columnist. Take reusing water for trough or mixer cleaning for example, she suggested. Bakers who typically wash out troughs or mixer bowls multiple times to clean them can take the rinse water from the final cycle and use it during the first cycle of the next trough to significantly reduce water usage.

Small water filtering skids, which are often portable, can also be an effective way to reuse water with a minimal capital investment, suggested Allen Baiamonte, associate project manager, Burns & McDonnell. Another initiative, he said, may involve adding valve controls to manage and monitor water usage. That was done at

Rudolph Foods’ Lawrenceville, GA, plant, where the pork rind maker added dozens of flow restrictors that have slashed the amount of water used by 45%, or from 42,000 to 19,000 gal a week. According to the company, flow restrictors fit on the sides of pipes or where the pressure is greatest with water transfer, and they restrict the pressure and flow of water on a line. The restrictors provide enough to get the job done and clean more efficiently.

DOWN THE TOILET.

A combination of good manufacturing practices, sanitation procedures and maintenance programs can keep profits from literally going down the toilet. “With bakeries that are lower users of water, don’t lose sight of bathrooms, which are a higher percentage of their total water use,” Mr. Dixon noted.

That can mean installing low-flush urinals, sinks and other simple household practices promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the green building rating system developed and administered by the US Green Building Council, he said.

Many companies reuse so-called gray water or rainwater to flush toilets or water lawns. Snack producer Shearer Foods installed a continuous rainwater recycle system that collects up to 17,000 gal of water a month from the roof and reuses it in restrooms at its LEED Platinum facility in Massillon, OH.

Manufacturers can also find a potential windfall of savings by simply having their engineers check out the ladies’ rooms, Dr. Giesecke observed. “The men never go into the ladies’ room, and women don’t know who to report the running toilet to. That can add up to a lot of water,” she said.

Identifying such easy fixes, Dr. Giesecke added, may also involve monitoring utility bills at depots and thrift stores. If water usage at a certain site is out of whack, that’s an easy red flag that money may be going down the drain. “People can find a leaking pipe simply by doing a benchmark and finding a depot with a large water bill,” Dr. Giesecke said.

SUSTAINABLE SANITATION.

Sanitation itself is not a sustainability-friendly function, noted Joe Stout, who founded Commercial Food Sanitation LLC after 28 years with Kraft Foods, most recently as the director of global product protection, sanitation and hygienic design. “When cleaning is in process, we have lights on and use chemicals, water and energy to clean. The most sanitation sustainable building and process would be one that didn’t require cleaning, because time, water and energy would not be needed,” said Mr. Stout, a Baking & Snack columnist. “If we analyze how we clean and the time it takes to clean a plant, and we use the minimal time possible to clean effectively, we could add more production capacity. Therefore, [we] can minimize the need to add a new line or a new plant, which takes natural resources and open green space. These are goals some companies have that relate to optimal sanitary design of equipment and facilities, which will maximize production uptime through sanitation effectiveness and efficiency and, therefore, minimize the need for a new line or plant. Besides being sustainable, it’s a good way to do business.”

Energy- and water-efficient pan washers, for instance, not only provide a required sanitation solution but also can reduce water and energy usage, Dr. Giesecke said. At the 2010 International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), she saw several systems that cleaned pans at a fraction of the operating costs of older systems.

Overall, industrial pan washers are much more water efficient than cleaning by hand. Typically, pan washers take only 4, 6 or 8 minutes to clean completely. Additionally, most batch washers — a process where multiple pans are washed at once — are designed to reuse filtered water over and over again. The water is changed only daily instead of constantly going down the drain like in a manual operation, according to Kevin Lemen, vice-president of sales and marketing, Douglas Machines Corp., Clearwater, FL.

Bigger savings can be found in the more automated pan washing system. Historically, automatic tunnel pan washers relied on a 2-chamber design where the pans passed through an initial detergent cycle to remove debris and grime, then a second clear water cycle for rinsing and sanitizing, Mr. Lemen noted.

However, these older-style pan washers used much more water than most current models, which now incorporate a 3-chamber process that reduces both water usage and wastewater, he said. An initial recirculating detergent wash cycle provides the bulk of the cleaning; a middle chamber with recirculating rinse removes the soap; and a final chamber gives the final rinse and sanitizing. Because the third chamber only sanitizes and doesn’t have to rinse off soap, the 3-chamber model uses about one-fifth of the old-style wash/rinse models, Mr. Lemen added.

Burners used to heat the water, he noted, are much more efficient. “It’s all about how you conserve water, how you conserve energy and how you conserve detergent,” Mr. Lemen said. “These systems are much more green compared with the alternatives.”

At IBIE, the waterless bakery tray cleaning system from Jeros received the “BEST in Baking” (Becoming Environmentally Sustainable Together) recognition from the show’s selection committee. The system scrapes baking trays, brushes off fine debris, scours them to the metal, cleans them without water, automatically stacks the clean trays and adds release oil. In addition to straightening bent baking trays, the process can clean 100 trays in 5 to 7 minutes or 14 to 20 trays per minute with just one employee.

Overall, the daily cost of maintaining and cleaning 500 trays ranges from $80 to $120, depending on the cleaning method, labor costs, energy, pan grease, wastewater usage, and straightening and reglazing. By switching to trays and using this system, bakers can get a 12- to 15-month return on investment, according to Jens Hedegaard, vice-president of sales, Jeros USA, Byron, IL. The tray cleaner/oiler system, he added, can reduce maintenance costs by 85% compared to that of conventional pan and washing system. From an energy standpoint, the Jeros 6015 tray cleaner is also efficient, operating at 2 kW. “The cost of traditionally cleaning sheet pans ranges from 5 to 10¢, while its only 1¢ for a sheet tray using this system,” he said.

TRAINING THEM RIGHT.

To make sure water management practices remain ongoing, baking and snack companies need to constantly train and remind their sanitation department as well as line operators on proper procedures and collecting data. “You’re talking about automated data systems that offer more meters to give you a more granular look as to how water is being used,” Mr. Dixon said. “You need to train to avoid those small sanitation disasters such as using water as a broom. You need training so there is more elbow grease being used than water. You’re physically removing soils rather than blasting them off with a hose.”

For many food producers, Dr. Giesecke said, it’s all about optimizing procedures. “Those products with greater amounts of sugar or very heavy flour in their products will clean better with hotter water and pressure,” she noted. “You can use a much lower temperature to clean equipment that’s used to make a straight dough or bun dough. You don’t have the sugars to dissolve or the stickiness of whole-wheat and multigrain doughs, which require a higher pressure to clean.”

It doesn’t always involve a lot of money, she added, to find creative ways keep profits from going down the drain.

Read More on the Subject:
What's your water footprint?

Comment on this Article
We welcome your thoughtful comments. Please comply with our Community rules.








The views expressed in the comments section of Food Business News do not reflect those of Food Business News or its parent company, Sosland Publishing Co., Kansas City, Mo. Concern regarding a specific comment may be registered with the Editor by clicking the Report Abuse link.