Foodservice Equipment Reports

Keeping Your Cool

When it comes to refrigerated equipment, Scott Hester of Refrigerated Specialist in Mesquite, Texas, has seen just about every form of abuse.

Like the eager employee who hosed down the kitchen during cleaning and shorted out several undercounter refrigerators to the tune of several thousand dollars in repair costs. Or the operator who neglected to fix a broken gasket and wasted hundreds in electricity dollars while aging the unit’s compressor.

“The scariest thing,” Hester says, “is the operator who’s not focused on food temps. Employees aren’t monitoring the equipment or the food, so food temps are compromised, and people get sick.” This is where proper maintenance of refrigerated prep tables becomes essential.

Don’t Do This

Many of the problems that crop up with prep tables aren’t the fault of the equipment but rather poor training and lack of proper procedures or just plain common sense.

“We get a lot of false alarms,” Hester says. “A customer will call and say his units don’t work because they’re all above 50°F. Our service techs go out and discover that the operator’s air conditioning is broken and it’s 100°F outside. If it’s a refrigerated prep table or an undercounter unit, the ambient heat in the kitchen will likely be outside the unit’s operating parameters, and dirt and grease
will contribute to the problem.”

The biggest misconception operators have, Hester says, is that this type of equipment will make food cold. Prep tables are designed to hold food that’s already cold at 40°F or below. They’re not designed to quick-chill hot food or even chill ambient temp food. With that in mind, here are a few tips for what not to do:

• Don’t load a prep table with product that isn’t already chilled to proper temperatures.

• Don’t use undercounter drawers to chill salad plates. If you put 60 lbs. of ambient-temp salad plates in a small refrigerator cabinet, it won’t recover quickly.

• Don’t jam units up against the wall or too close to other equipment, particularly cooking equipment. The condenser coil needs room to throw off heat.

• Don’t overload the unit. Too much product in the box or drawer will impede airflow and prevent food that isn’t properly chilled from cooling.

If the unit isn’t pulling temps down, Hester says, don’t call for a service tech until you try the following:

• Make sure the unit has space to breathe. Clear away boxes or carts that might be in the way.

• Take everything out and wait an hour. If the temperature doesn’t come down within the proper range, then call. (Be sure to store the items you removed in the walk-in cooler or some other refrigerator.)

• Check the vents inside the unit to make sure nothing is blocking airflow throughout the compartment.

• Check the evaporator coil for ice. If ice has built up on the coil, call for service.

Instead, Do This

Care for your equipment properly, and it will take care of you. Schedule the following cleaning and maintenance every 90 days:

• Check and clean the condenser coil. Use a brush and/or compressed air at 70 psi to remove dust and dirt. If necessary, clean with a solution of mild detergent and warm water. If it’s very dirty (because it’s located near a fryer and breading station, for example), use a 10% diffusion filter on the unit to help keep the coil cleaner between scheduled cleanings.

• Check and clean the evaporator drain pan. The drain pan can collect food debris, which can end up clogging drain lines and allowing mold, mildew and bacteria to grow. If there’s standing water in the drain pan, you likely have a clogged drain line. You can blow it out with 70-psi compressed air or call your service tech.

• Clean the interior. Clean shelves and walls to keep food from falling into the evaporator drain pan. Pay special attention to fan vents so you get plenty of air circulation over the evaporator and into the cabinet. Make sure vents aren’t blocked by food.

• Check and clean the door gaskets. Nothing wastes energy faster than a box without a tight seal. If the gaskets are worn, replace them. You can easily do it yourself on many models.

• Check for loose handles, screws, covers and wires. And while you’re at it, inspect power cords and replace any that are frayed or worn. And if you don’t have the in-house resources to do any of the above, contract with a service company to do it for you.

“Treat your equipment like you would your car,” Hester says. “If you don’t change the oil in your car, eventually you’ll have catastrophic engine failure.”

FER thanks the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association for its
help with this story.

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