How to Clean Up Your Commercial Refrigeration and Nail that ‘A’ Grade
If you own or manage a restaurant in New York City, you probably have nightmares about the health inspector. You know the one we mean, where he comes in wearing a diabolical grin and slaps a C grade on your front window.
Seriously, even if he comes in smiling pleasantly, your stomach probably does flip-flops. Having the health inspector turn up can be even scarier than having your chef call in sick. You immediately remember all the maintenance tasks you’ve been meaning to take care of, like the low-boy on your cooking line that’s been running too warm. Then you imagine the potentially catastrophic violations that could come as a total surprise: like having to throw out everything in your blast chiller because the temperature is too high. You might even face the closing of your restaurant because of a Condition V critical violation.
Some of the most damaging violations you can receive in an inspection come from food being stored or held at the wrong temperature.
Here’s how poor restaurant HVAC refrigeration service leads to dangerous temperature variations:
1. Understand that neglected commercial refrigeration services earns you a poor grade
Food that’s stored or held at temperatures that are too high can lead to serious public health issues. Even if your display case is only a few degrees too warm, the temperature can allow bacteria to multiply in a hurry, and eventually make people sick. That’s why the NYC health department scores violations related to food temperature so high.
It doesn’t take much for a piece of commercial refrigeration equipment to run too warm. Take that low-boy on your cooking line. It’s close to the floor and in the line of fire where people are cooking, so it accumulates lots of dust, debris, and spattered grease and food droppings. If you don’t regularly clean the coils, that buildup makes it harder for the coils to cool the unit, eventually causing the interior of the unit to rise.
Related Article: Blast Chillers 101: How to Avoid Commercial Refrigeration Repair
Another common cause of temperature variance is refrigerator or freezer doors that don’t close properly. Loose or broken hinges or even grease on gaskets can cause your refrigerators to leak cool air. If a unit is close to cooking appliances, it can even suck in hot air. If you notice that the temperature is ok in the morning but climbs as the day goes on, the door may not be closing properly.
With everything you have to do in a given day, you may not notice right away if one or more of your refrigeration units is too warm. But you can be sure that the health inspector will notice, and ding you with violation points.
Here’s the good news: performing regular maintenance on all your refrigeration units can all but eliminate these temperature variances.
2. Try these “A” grade refrigeration maintenance tasks you can do yourself
Keep your restaurant’s health grade at the top of the class by making these tasks a daily priority:
- Wipe down all units inside and out every day.
- Make sure all units have accurate thermometers and check them every day. It’s also helpful to post the correct temperature on each unit so your employees can keep an eye on it as well.
- Make sure all units have clear air flow space around them. Remove furniture and décor, storage items or other equipment that’s blocking air to the coils.
- Check for water leaks. A leak on the inside of the box can cause food to be contaminated. If you find a puddle on the floor, it’s a symptom of a larger problem that will cause your unit to fail completely if not addressed. Call a refrigeration maintenance technician to get to the bottom of it.
3. Call in the pros for these critical commercial refrigeration maintenance tasks.
Just like your restaurant’s other mission-critical systems, your refrigeration equipment needs TLC from experienced technicians to keep operating reliably. Here are just a few of the important items that must be attended to:
Clean ice machines!
Did you know that dirty ice is one of the most common health code violations? Your ice machine needs to be regularly taken apart and cleaned with a chemical sanitizer to remove mold. If the inside of your ice machine is a scary sight, make that call now before someone becomes ill.
If evaporator and condenser coils are dirty, the unit has to work harder to maintain the interior temperature, which also uses more energy and shortens the life span of the equipment. To keep your units running reliably, your refrigeration service tech uses special cleaners and equipment to carefully remove grease and build-up without damaging the fan motor or compressor.
Related Article: Clean HVAC System Condensor Coils = Lower Energy Bills
Check door hardware.
Air leaks not only cause temperature variance, but also raise your utility bill. Your technician will check doors for proper seal, and replace faulty hardware, lubricate hinges and clean gaskets to prevent costly consequences.
Check refrigerant charge.
Leaking refrigerant is another possible cause of a unit that’s running warm. This can be an EPA violation as well as a health code violation. Your technician will fix the leak and recharge the refrigerant.
Related Article: What You Need to Know About Refrigerant Safety and Your HVAC System
Check overall function of units.
Your technician will inspect the condition of parts, the operation of the motor, and electrical connections. He can often spot and fix problems before you’re out a walk-in refrigerator on a busy day.
You know how important your grade is to your restaurant’s reputation and ultimately, profitability. That big sign at your entrance announces your food safety status to everyone who walks by. Maintaining your refrigeration equipment is crucial to making sure you can proudly display that “A” grade.
Investing in a maintenance contract with a reputable and experienced refrigeration service company keeps your equipment in top shape, so you can be sure the food you serve is safe and meets quality standards. And you can breathe easy the next time the health inspector visits your restaurant. Don’t neglect your equipment for one more day!
To learn more about preventative maintenance contracts, grab our free guide to Refrigeration Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your Food Service Operation.