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In excess of 1.6bn tonnes of food worth around $1.2tn is lost or goes to waste each year – one third of the total amount of food produced globally – due to inadequate refrigeration systems. Shaun Evers, managing director of Stonegate Instruments, explains the high potential for inefficiencies and the excessive food wastage this can lead to.
Cold storage and refrigeration units are essential for maintaining temperatures and therefore the quality of food products and, if operated correctly, they have the potential to not only drive significant reductions in food wastage, but also energy. Equally, failure to maintain the integrity of cold storage can lead to significant deterioration of perishable food, as well as breaches in regulatory compliance and increases in carbon emissions.
High potential for energy inefficiency
The continual growth in the refrigerated food market and ongoing food safety challenges, paired with heavy consumer demands for better quality products with an increasingly extended shelf life, means refrigeration is a critical element of the food supply chain and one fraught with the potential for energy inefficiencies. It is also a hotbed of health and environmental hazards.
There are a number of areas that can lead to refrigeration inefficiencies. From simply overloading fridges, or doors accidentally being left open which leads to inefficient temperature control, to energy loss caused by a leak of refrigerant gas. Leaks can occur for a number of reasons, from improper maintenance and mechanical damage to accidental release during refrigerant replenishment.
Eating away at your energy consumption
With these factors in mind, kitchens and catering facilities can enjoy a number of benefits from optimising equipment efficiency. Properly maintained refrigerators, working at the right temperature and without any refrigerant gas leaks, keep food fresh for longer, dramatically reducing spoilage.
While the consequences of a too warm refrigerator may be obvious, the opposite is not – a few degrees may seem irrelevant but overcooling by 1°C less than is required can result in a 2% hike in electricity use. Therefore, maintaining the required temperature will help curb costs and reduce food wastage.
And it may seem like a minor error, but leaving a door open can force a system to work harder to stay cool, in turn using more energy and incurring higher energy costs. An easy way to prevent doors accidentally being left open for an extended period is to install an alarm.
As previously mentioned, reducing the chance of refrigerant gas leaks, or spotting and stopping them as early as possible, will not only improve energy efficiency, but will also help protect the environment – figures from the Carbon Trust show that a leak of 1kg of refrigerant gas has the same environmental impact as a van driving for 10,000 miles.
Leaks of refrigerant gas are dangerous for several reasons, not least because they often go undetected as the gases in question are odour-free and cannot be seen. When a leak does occur, it impacts on the performance of the refrigeration equipment, putting food at risk of being spoiled.
Poor equipment performance from gas leaks can also result in spiralling energy costs. For example, if left unrepaired for three months, a small leak in an average 300kW refrigeration system could result in increased energy costs of £1,400 – not to mention the repair bill once the leak is identified.
For some organisations, refrigeration costs account for around half of their entire energy bill.
Fortunately, there are various steps that can be taken to minimise the amount spent on electricity.
Managing your refrigeration systems
Managing a cold storage system successfully requires a delicate balance of temperature control, refrigerant leak detection and management, as well as keeping personnel safe. Operational efficiencies such as leak reduction and temperature optimisation through the use of leading-edge products can ensure this balance is maintained, while at the same time ensuring the quality of food in storage does not diminish. New gas leak detection systems, for instance, can ensure leaks are quickly identified and swiftly repaired, minimising any potential environmental damage and safeguarding employees, without compromising the effectiveness of equipment.
Fortunately, simple yet highly effective devices can be used to maximise equipment efficiency. Almost certainly the most straightforward way to determine whether equipment is cool enough is to install an easily visible temperature display. Such a display offers a clear indication of the temperature within a refrigerator and should be bright and readable from a distance, alerting staff to any fluctuations which may precede potential problems.
By far one of the most hazardous of faults though are gas leaks. These can occur due to equipment malfunction, improper maintenance work, mechanical damage or accidental release during replenishment, and often around 60% of gas escapes before anyone notices. While it is impossible to predict when a leak may occur, technology can be used to identify an incident the moment it arises, enabling staff to pinpoint the cause and make necessary repairs before either workforce or the environment is affected.
Innovative technology for monitoring and intervention solutions are one of the remedies for diminishing wastage and losses incurred throughout the cold chain. In a bid to address losses in the food supply chain, while at the same time reducing their cold storage costs, many leading businesses are seeing the value in adopting them.
The benefits of the latest technology
The most straightforward way to determine whether equipment is cool enough is to install an easily visible temperature display. This will offer a clear indication of the temperature within a refrigerator and should be bright and readable from a distance, alerting staff to any fluctuations which may precede potential problems.
In relation to refrigeration gas leak technology there are detection systems designed to alert staff to the release of a wide variety of substances, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), using remote refrigerant sensors linked to audible and visual alarms. Stonegate Instruments’ DL1024, for example, can accommodate up to 24 remote refrigerant sensors, arranged in three zones of eight channels, with four relay outputs for signalling an alarm. LED colours indicate the presence and status of each sensor and any sensed gas leak, activating an audio/visual alarm to alert employees. In addition to this they also comprise battery back-up systems in the case of power failure.
When it comes to preventing food spoilage and reducing energy costs, the simplest solutions can often solve the most complex problems. In fact, turning to technology is a win-win scenario as refrigeration equipment performing at their peak will not only help reduce waste and control energy costs, but will also reduce a hospital’s overall environmental impact.
In addition, with even the most sophisticated devices on the market having a return on investment time of just two years, employing technology makes sense.
Stonegate Instruments designs, develops and manufactures electronic equipment for the refrigeration industry including gas detectors. The company’s products are proven in cold storage facilities for reducing energy, carbon emissions and the associated costs. For more information, please visit www.stonegate-instruments.com.
Refrigeration inefficiencies don’t have to lead to food wastage
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