Clad in white lab coats and blue latex gloves, the three engineers and two assistants run the test with military precision.
One engineer turns on the spigot, filling a clear glass cup with vanilla soft serve ice cream for exactly 40 seconds. He hands it to another engineer who weighs it, then a third engineer inserts a probe to ensure the temperature is 21 degrees or colder. Each measurement is duly recorded.
The test runs flawlessly. The thick swirls of soft serve beckon, but eating will have to come later. The team must repeat the test 29 more times back-to-back. And then they will do the entire process again three more times — 30 consecutive servings, 40 seconds each, temperature below 21 degrees.
Welcome to Southern California Edison’s Foodservice Technology Center, where eating the food plays second fiddle to the testing of the food equipment.
Andre Saldivar, the Foodservice Technology Center’s project manager and one of the test engineers, calls his operation “a hidden secret.”
SCE created the center 25 years ago in an effort to educate restaurants, schools, grocers and others in the food industry about energy efficiency. Increasing energy efficiency is a win-win situation for customers, who save on their electric bills, and SCE, which sees reduced demand on the power grid.
“Foodservice is everywhere and it’s a big energy guzzler in SCE’s territory, that’s why we pay attention to it,” Saldivar said.
Saldivar’s team provides a variety of services to the food industry, all for free. They have tested equipment ranging from the soft serve machines to pizza conveyor belts and pressure fryers for chicken to determine which ones meet energy-efficiency standards and qualify for possible rebates. They also visit restaurants and other food establishments to do on-site energy audits.
Last year, Saldivar’s team worked with customers as varied as McDonald’s, Kroger markets, Starbucks and 85C Bakery, advising them on energy-efficient equipment that saved them a combined 1.6 million kilowatt-hours on their annual electric bills. That’s enough to power 300 to 600 homes for a year.
The kitchen, located in an SCE office park in Irwindale, also is available for customers to test their recipes on various pieces of equipment.
Saldivar acknowledged his is an unusual job for a utility.
“I’m definitely not a chef, I’m an engineer,” he said. “But I get to be a geek at it, breaking down the units and taking them apart.”
He said the best part about the job is having a different challenge every day.
And, of course, when the testing is over, there are the leftovers.