How Much Water Does it Take to Make a Hamburger?

Posted by Admin on Jul 17, 2017 11:57:16 AM

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 Here’s a question most consumers don’t ponder when diving into their favorite greasy cheeseburger: how much water did it take to make this?


For food and beverage producers, however, the question of water consumption grows more important by the day. An increased need for water conservation around the globe means manufacturers must consider ways to save water, and subsequently save money, while still delivering a high quality product.


According to the Sierra Club, the average cheeseburger requires 698.5 gallons to produce. That includes 22 gallons to make the bun, 4.5 gallons to grow the lettuce and tomato, 56 gallons to produce one slice of cheese and a whopping 616 gallons, from start to finish, to make the meat patty. In an economy where the average price of water is about $1.50 per 1,000 gallons, the costs can add up for food and beverage producers, not to mention the environmental impacts.


So what can we do to conserve water in the food and beverage industry? The Haskell team, including our experts at Seiberling Associates, Inc., has four suggestions for reducing water consumption.


1. Optimize clean-in-place (CIP) technology with a centrally located CIP room

When planning a greenfield project or major facility upgrade, the location of the CIP room is critical to conserving water and energy. The less distance water has to travel from its source, to the equipment, and back for disposal, the better.


To produce one gallon of milk requires about 880 gallons of water, including 1.2 - 3 gallons used in the final processing. Given that over 10 billion gallons of milk are consumed in the U.S. each year, that adds up to 21 billion gallons of water -- 50% of which is used to CIP the 1300 dairies in the U.S.


“CIP systems are the largest consumer of water in a facility,” says Robert Price, senior project manager for Seiberling Associates, Inc. “Supply and return piping systems are filled several times per cleaning cycle every day, so the farther away the CIP room is from the equipment, that adds to the volume of water required to complete each cycle.”


By centrally locating a CIP room or placing multiple CIP rooms within a facility to reduce the volume and traveling distance of valuable water resources, plants can save $124,000 a year in water costs, treatments, chemicals and energy usage. It also saves 330 hours a year in time spent running CIP cycles.


2. Utilize properly sized pipes and product recovery systems

While having a centrally located CIP room reduces the linear feet of piping needed to carry water to and from equipment, making sure the plant’s piping system for CIP and processing is sized correctly also has a tremendous impact on the cost and consumption of water. 

“In a greenfield facility, it’s important to make sure that the line sizing and pressure are economized for your system. Most of the time a two or a two-and-a-half inch line can do the same job as a three-inch line in a shorter time, with less water.”

-  Robert Price, Senior Project Manager - Seiberling

Take for example, an ice cream facility that mixes pasteurized lines from storage tanks to freezer centers. With over 6,500 feet of piping needed to complete the process, the difference between 3” diameter pipes and 2.5” pipes in terms of the water needed to properly clean excess product from the system is 2.1 million gallons per year.


3. Make use of other CIP systems to remove excess product

The oversized pipes also resulted in an additional 350,000 gallons of product each year that were wasted in the CIP process. Allowing that product to get washed out in the rinse water results in profits going down the drain. Instead, other options like air blows and water flushes can help plants reclaim up to 90% of the product still in the lines with minimal water consumption.


Removing the residual product for use also minimizes the amount of water and time needed for the CIP system to clean the lines after each cycle of processing. It’s a win-win that provides plants with more product to sell and less expense due to reduced water consumption.


4. Embrace new CIP technology

Advances are made every day in CIP systems that help reduce the amount of water needed to properly clean and sanitize equipment. New turbidity sensors can even measure the opacity of rinse water to determine exactly when dairy residue has been safely eliminated.


“Even existing plants can be optimized to clean equipment more efficiently,” says Price. “Rinse times used to be set up based on volume, but if your products change in viscosity that doesn’t always work because you’re set up for the heaviest product, like yogurt, which then creates an overuse for something lighter like milk. Newer CIP systems can be tailored to each product.”


Price also points out that simple housekeeping measures, like checking for leaky gauges and valves, can often save water and resources.


Do you need help to reduce the amount of water it takes to make your cheeseburgers?


If you have a food and beverage production facility, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at your water consumption levels and identify some areas where you can save time and money with conservation.

“Optimizing CIP systems goes beyond water consumption, it also reduces the amount of downtime for equipment while it’s going through the cleaning process,” says Price. “Downtime leads to revenue loss, so that’s a big area where we are working to find new ways to make CIP more efficient, without sacrificing safety or quality.”

Are you interested in discussing suggestions for reducing water consumption in your facility? Contact Robert Price, Senior Project Manager at to explore how you could save time and money.


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Topics: Sustainability, Water/Wastewater, Manufacturing