A commercial charbroiler cooking one 1/3-pound burger patty emits as much particulate matter as a 18-wheeler diesel-engine truck driving 143 miles, according to Bill Welch, principle development engineer in a study on commercial cooking emissions by the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) at the University of California, Riverside.
How much particular matter (PM) is produced by charbroiling a burger? About five grams per 1/3-pound patty. Hank Campbell of Science 2.0 breaks down the calculations from a 2004 study [PDF] of emissions by different kinds of vehicles and a 1999 report [PDF] on California's Commercial Kitchen Ventilation and Emissions project.
Emissions from model years 2007-2010 Class 8 heavy-duty diesel trucks = 35 mg/mile Emissions from charbroiled hamburgers = 33 lbs. PM/1000 lbs meat cooked
(33 lbs. PM/1000 lbs meat) x (1/3 lb./patty) x (454 g/lb) = 4.994 g PM/patty (4.994 g PM/patty) x (1000 mg/g)/(35 mg/mile) =142.7 miles
Diesel engines are regulated to keep their emissions in check, but there are few regulations on cooking equipment. To help control emissions from cooking equipment*, CE-CERT is testing a device on commercial charbroilers that removes grease from exhaust and traps it in water. They've grilled over 4,000 pounds of meat in the name of research since May, with most of the food going to college students and a food kitchen, reports New York Times.
Commercial cooking sounds like a bad pollutant as far as PM goes, but at least it's not number one. "In its 2007 Air Quality Management Plan, SCAQMD determined that commercial cooking is second-largest source of particulate matter in the South Coast Air Basin," says UCR's media advisory. ..Okay, it's number two. So what is number one?
Paved road dust.
* As for other ways to control emissions, this document from 2009 outlines a few technologies that help reduce PM emissions from under-fired charbroilers. The document is a proposed amendment to Rule 1138: Control of Emissions from Restaurant Operations, which, as it stands now, seems to only apply to chain-driven charbroilers.
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