Home Publisher's Point of View The Darker Side, the Greener Future of Chafing Dish Fuel Gel

The Darker Side, the Greener Future of Chafing Dish Fuel Gel

Glenn Hasek

Many of you are hosting holiday events this month. There is a good chance you are using chafing dish fuel gel to keep food hot. There is a good chance a fair portion of that gel will go unused. There is also a good chance the gel containers will be improperly thrown away. I spoke with several suppliers of what are considered to be eco-friendlier versions of chafing dish fuel gel recently and was a bit shocked when I learned the truth about what hoteliers have been using for years to heat food.

One supplier told me 40 percent of fuel gel is typically wasted. It is considered hazardous waste and should be considered as such at the point of disposal. “The hazardous waste is supposed to be disposed of by opening the can, and then removing the content into a hazmat container,” one supplier told me. “The container must be shipped to a hazmat site for disposal. Ninety-eight percent of foodservice operators are not doing anything close to that.”

What’s wrong with most fuel gel today is its ingredients. It is typically made from corn-based ethanol, methanol and other additives to help the product burn hotter. Methanol is added to make it too toxic for consumption. Methanol gel is poisonous and contains dioxin and emits nitrous oxide, arsenic, carbon monoxide and excessive carbon dioxide when burned. It is dangerous to touch and dangerous to the environment when containers end up in the landfill. There, they leach their poisons into the water table. The emissions can taint the food it touches and of course your employees and guests can easily be exposed to emissions—especially in improperly ventilated spaces.

At Least One Fatality

According to one vendor contacted for an article on chafing dish fuel gel, at least one hotel guest has died from accidentally ingesting the fuel. A container was sitting out on a food table. It had not been started. A woman thought it was jelly and ate some. It would not surprise me at all if there have also been cases where employees and guests have been burned by chafing dish fuel gel.

The good news is that there are now safer and greener ethanol fuel gel options available. Two suppliers offer gels made from sugarcane. One sources its sugarcane from South Africa (Fuel 21). The other sources its sugarcane from Brazil (Ecoflame International). The third supplier I spoke with offers a canned fuel made using an enzyme-derived glycol that comes from plant fructose (ECOFuel Worldwide). Each of these suppliers’ cans can be reused multiple times, saving on waste. Bulk fuel containers can be purchased. Emissions are much safer.

There are certainly no perfect chafing dish fuel gels. I highly advise asking a lot of questions of any supplier you choose—especially regarding employee, guest and environmental safety. Do consider waste management. With some, not all, of the greener options, cans eventually will have to be recycled. There is no reason any chafing dish fuel gel can should end up in a landfill.

What has your experience been with chafing dish fuel gel? Have you tried less toxic options? I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

Green Lodging News Adds Polly Products as Founding Sponsor

Green Lodging News welcomes Polly Products as a Founding Sponsor. Polly Products is a maker of outdoor furniture items including benches, picnic tables, bike racks, trash containers, planters and other items. The main ingredient in the material used is recycled plastic (milk jugs and white buckets).

Polly Products begins the molding process by purchasing 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic material. Colorants and UV stabilizers are added to protect the finished products from the sun. For every pound the product weighs, Polly Products uses approximately eight gallon milk jugs. It takes about 3,200 milk jugs to produce an 8’ picnic table. This saves tons of plastic from ending up in landfills.

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