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July 2007
Refrigeration Care 101

By Michael Romico

If you've got equipment sporting condenser coils—who doesn't?—read on for tips to keep up with ba-sic maintenance. And make sure your refrigerated units are placed properly in the kitchen.

You've seen this before: a reach-in seems to be run-ning right, but inside the holding temp is too warm. Simply put, the unit's refrigeration system is no longer removing enough heat from the interior.

Challenges like this—and many others—have been part of Scott Hester's life for the last 30 years. As president of Refrigerated Specialist in Mesquite, Texas, he's seen all kinds of refrigeration maintenance issues, and he says the steps to keeping any refrigerated unit in tip-top shape are easy to follow.

Keep Those Coils Clean
Refrigerated units have to shed heat easily to prop-erly maintain internal temperatures. To do that, heat passes through condensor coils usually found in the front of the units. Hester says keeping coils free of debris, dust and dirt should top any maintenance routine, and there are three options: brushing, blow-ing or using chemical solvents.

For the first, brushing, Hester recommends that op-erators only use nylon bristle brushes that will not harm the delicate aluminum fins found on most refrigeration units. Any damage done to the fins will cause even more obstruction of air, he adds. Brush-ing should always be done lightly and in the same direction of the fins to avoid pushing debris and dust inside the unit.

Depending on the unit type and location, Hester says he has seen the benefits of using a low-powered air compressor to blow debris out from the coils. Inexpensive, portable air compressors rated at no more than 70 psi are easily available at home goods stores. With their flexible hoses, a compressor can clean away dirt from hard-to-reach areas. As with brushing, Hester says care should be taken to blow debris out of the unit, not deeper into it.

As for chemical solvents, Hester suggests using gentle solutions such as Simple Green to clean con-densor coils and vents. This is especially helpful for refrigeration units located near fryers and cooking stations that release grease into the air. Dipping a rag in a cleaning solution and wiping the compo-nents is all it takes. Hester cautions against using too much water or spraying around the coils be-cause of the possible harm to electronic components.

Location, Location, Location
Simple sleuthing can sometimes turn up a source of problems, too. Hester recalls a visit to a major chain operator whose glassware frosting unit was requir-ing more frequent servicing. During cleaning, he noticed a large amount of red lint clogging vents and coils. Later, Hester discovered that waitstaff were using an adjacent area to roll dozens of red linen napkins and silverware every night, releasing the lint that was the source of the problems.

Hester's advice: Operators should observe what kind of work occurs around their cold units and take action before issues arise. And he recommends at-taching filter media to catch debris before it can clog coils. Although most manufacturers do not specify a filter media for the front of their units, there are vendors who can recommend the proper filter for your equipment. Hester recommends in-stalling a light-weight filter with no more than a 10% restriction rating.

Seals, Gaskets And Hinges
Door seals and gaskets are usually made of extruded silicone or vinyl, both soft materials susceptible to damage if not kept free of debris. Hester says that inconsistent cleaning is the top cause for gasket fail-ures, and a gentle touch is recommended here, too. Rubbing gaskets too hard will eventually cause tears that lead to failures. A gentle soap should be used to clean away food particles and beverage spills that become trapped in the accordian folds of door seals. He also recommends the tried-and-true dollar bill test: Place a dollar bill in between the seal and door frame. If you can pull the bill free, it's time to replace the seal.

Again, the location of the units will dictate the amount of preventive maintenance required. Kitchen designers should locate units far enough away from fryers or sandwich stations to minimize the amount of heavy cleaning required to maintain them.

As for hinges, whether they are adjustable or spring-loaded, Hester says the smart operator will make sure to periodically check them for wear and tear. Proper installation and calibration, particularly of adjustable hinges, and routine lubrication of moving parts are easy steps to make. Neglected hinges eventually lead to air leaks, which can si-lently siphon energy savings.

No Hot Food Here
Despite the advances in refrigeration technology, today's units must still be operated as intended for optimum performance and durability. Hester says he consistently sees operators failing to cool food properly before storing.

"It's a huge waster of energy," he says. Hester says most operators are aware that hot items should be cycled through blast chillers before refrigerated storage, but some fail to properly enforce proce-dures with their staffs. "It's a question of education and training," he says.

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