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Using LED Lighting in Foodservice Applications
Using LED Lighting in Foodservice Applications

By:  Stuart Davis, LEED Green Associate
Senior Associate/Project Manager – Chicago Office

LED lighting presents an energy efficient option, but it may not be suitable for all areas of a foodservice operation.  With the long list of benefits that LED lighting provides, there are many situations where it is the best choice.  However, not all foodservice applications are created equal, and the pros and cons of all available lighting sources should be considered when determining the best option for each application.

What makes LED lighting a good choice?

  • It has a longer life – lasting 10 to 25 times longer than other bulbs (see footnote 1).  This can be ideal for maintaining lighting in relatively inaccessible locations or in operations where lighting is in use for long periods of time.
  • It has lower heat emissions – 5 times less than an incandescent bulb of the same wattage (see footnote 2).  LED lighting can be beneficial when used in areas where heat can compromise the surrounding areas, such as refrigerated display cases.
  • It has a lower operating cost, which becomes very important considering that lighting represents approximately 11% of a restaurant’s energy bill and 40% of energy usage in a commercial building.
  • It is environmentally friendly (no mercury, and in some cases, lead-free).
  • It turns on instantly.  This can be a valuable asset for walk-in refrigerators and freezers, where it is necessary to get in and out of the walk-in as efficiently as possible.
  • Lower temperatures increase light output and efficiency, also making it a good option for walk-in refrigerators and freezers.
  • It has more design options, offering greater flexibility. 

Where does LED lighting fall short?

  • A lack of standardization within the industry causes differences in quality.  Even products within the same manufacturer’s batch can vary in light output and color temperature.
  • It is expensive.  Average retail cost of a 60-watt incandescent is $1.25, compared to $35.95 for an equivalent LED bulb (see footnote 3).
  • Color appearance can lack quality and consistency.  Color appearance is measured by correlated color temperature (CCT) on the Kelvin (K) scale. For most interior lighting applications, warm white (2700K to 3000K) and in some cases neutral white (3500K to 4000K) light is appropriate. Bulbs with a CCT higher than 3000K begin to develop a bluish appearance and may not be appropriate for many foodservice applications.  Even high-quality LED lights can develop a drift in color temperature shifting from a natural light to a bluish color in just 1 to 2 years’ time.
  • LED bulbs with a higher color temperature than 2700 Kelvin can cause glare.
  • It cannot produce a “range” of color when dimmed.  Incandescent light becomes warmer in color when dimmed, whereas LED light produces the same white output.

 Where should foodservice operations use careful consideration when specifying LED lighting?

  • Refrigerated cases.  The color temperature of the light should be specified properly to compliment the contents of the case.  Using no higher than 2700 Kelvin lamping is essential, as higher color temperatures can render food unappetizing.
  • Areas that require dimming.  If an appropriate range of color or consistency cannot be achieved with LED lighting, other lighting options should be considered.  Careful consideration should also be applied to the transition between display kitchens and the surrounding dining area. Theatrical gels can be used for modifying the range of color in LED lighting in a dining area, but they do not meet the health code requirements for display kitchens.
  • When cost is a factor.  Depending on the size of the project, the upfront cost of LED lighting may be prohibitive.

 With technological advancements and more standardization, the cost and quality of LED lighting will hopefully improve and foodservice consultants can increase its use.  In the meantime, consultants can demand to see a sample of the LED product specified in use, in order to determine if it will be adequate for the application.  Consultants should not assume that a 2700 Kelvin bulb will be appropriate for an application without testing it, as they are not consistent from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Getting involved and working together with the lighting consultants and architects on each project will ensure the lighting installations offer the best possible experience for the client and the consumer.


(1)  http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/lighting_daylighting/index.cfm/mytopic=11978#q11
(2)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode
(3)  http://eartheasy.com/live_led_bulbs_comparison.html#a

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