It’s the middle of your dinner rush, with a packed house, and one of your line cooks reaches into a low boy to grab ingredients, only to find everything warm. What do you do? If your first thought is to chuck it and get to the nearest Restaurant Depot to replace it, then you have the wrong instinct. Treating your restaurant refrigeration equipment like disposable items can cost your restaurant a lot of money.
It’s true that heavy repairs can be pricey. So what’s the alternative? Properly maintained restaurant refrigeration equipment won’t need repairs. Best of all, with proper care your fridges and freezers will last much longer and save you the cost of replacing them entirely.
Why restaurant refrigeration equipment needs to be maintained
We treat many items in our lives, like cars and houses, with the care and attention to make them last a long time. So why act like restaurant refrigeration equipment is disposable? A little bit of maintenance will go a long way in extending the life of your coolers.
Restaurants place a much heavier load on refrigeration equipment than households. Because these items are used a lot more, they need more care than your average refrigerator. Regular maintenance is required to look after your equipment.
There’s more at stake when a fridge or freezer fails than other items in the kitchen. A sudden fridge failure can start a chain reaction that you’d be much better off avoiding in the first place. Loss of a fridge means loss of product, and lost product will mean lost customers. A subtle failure (like a temperature increase) could risk contaminated food without you realizing it. Preventing a fridge failure is worth the effort.
A maintenance plan is useful for keeping your unit clean, replacing worn out parts before they break, and increasing output. Restaurant refrigeration equipment gets more efficient when it is clean and operating correctly. The more efficient the equipment is, the less money you have to spend on electricity. Most restaurant profit margins are slim enough without wasteful charges. Restaurant refrigeration equipment upkeep is an easy way to limit unnecessary expenses.
8 ways you can take care of your restaurant refrigeration equipment
There are many things you can do to maintain your own restaurant refrigeration equipment.
- 1. Daily or at least weekly, you should be monitoring the temperature of each fridge or cooler. The FDA recommends a temperature between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit for refrigerators, and 0 degrees Fahrenheit for freezers. A temperature that’s too warm will put you at risk for spoiling food. Too cold and ingredients could freeze unintentionally, and it also makes your fridge work harder than necessary and wear out faster.
- 2. It’s also a good idea to check for air leaks periodically. For this you can use the dollar bill trick. Open each fridge or freezer door, and slide a dollar bill in the crack. Close the door, allowing the seal to form, and then try to tug the dollar bill out. If it comes out easily, the seal of the door is not air tight. It should offer some resistance. This is a sign to check the seals and gaskets. Keep an eye out for cracks in the gaskets of your restaurant refrigeration equipment as well.
- 3. Freezer and fridge door hinges should be kept oiled to prevent improper closing that impedes cooling.
- 4. Make sure to turn the lights off when you leave or close a walk in freezer. Leaving the lights on wastes electricity and also generates heat, placing more strain on your freezer than necessary.
- 5. The best thing you can do for your restaurant refrigeration equipment is to keep it clean. Follow your owner’s manual advice for how to clean the interior of coolers, freezers, and ice machines. Avoid using harmful cleaning materials such as steel wool or bleach.
- 6. Clean ice machines will increase their yield, making your kitchen extra efficient. This is one job that is best left to the professionals. Learn more here: Bacteria in Ice: Think Your Restaurant’s Ice Is Safe?.
- 7. Restaurant refrigeration equipment also needs a clear airflow area around it. Make sure the space around any drink cooler or blast chiller is uncluttered and clean. Blocked airflow makes it harder for the equipment to cool down.
- 8. Lastly, taking care of your restaurant refrigeration equipment would not be complete without a maintenance plan. There are some tasks your equipment requires less often that is best left to the professionals. With a plan, you can schedule maintenance twice a year. These visits should include a thorough inspection, cleaning, and repair on the parts of your restaurant refrigeration equipment. Attempting some of these tasks yourself could be dangerous for your equipment or void your warranty.
A restaurant refrigeration equipment tune up includes:
- Inspecting all parts for wear and tear that could lead to failures
- Inspection and cleaning of ice machine and drain line
- Cleaning fan blades
- Calibration of thermometers
- Checking compressor operation,
- Checking suction line insulation and testing motor operation
- Monitoring refrigerant levels
If your equipment receives a particularly heavy load, you may want to make appointments to have certain tasks done by experts monthly, such as cleaning the fan blades and coils. Evaporator and condenser coils are the heart of any restaurant refrigeration equipment, and some of the most delicate parts. Let a professional handle the chemicals and cleaning with commercial coil cleaner.
All of these tasks keep your restaurant refrigeration equipment working in great condition much longer than they would otherwise last. Not only do you avoid the dreaded breakdowns and emergency trips to buy a new one, but you reduce expenses with equipment that lasts longer. Even better: you prevent equipment failures from impacting the food you serve to your customers. As long as you treat your restaurant refrigeration equipment like the long-lasting tools they can be, they will serve you well.
Learn more about preventative maintenance plans for refrigeration equipment: Refrigeration Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your Food Service Operation.