The growth of the food service industry has led to the development of highly specialized refrigeration equipment for varied needs ranging from food storage to presentation. This equipment is generally easy to operate and highly reliable, but careless operation and lack of maintenance can be quite costly since this equipment typically must run all the time.

Refrigerators and freezers operate more hours than any other kitchen equipment. Their energy use depends on their location in the kitchen, food loading and removal practices, and level of periodic maintenance.

It is usually wise to purchase the most energy-efficient unit available, but there are other important factors to consider, such as convenience and accessibility. Problems in these areas may cost more in the long run than inefficient energy use. In addition, some refrigeration equipment offers heat recovery options that can reduce site water heating requirements. Therefore, when trying to select an appropriate unit, you may want to work with someone having specialized expertise in refrigeration evaluation, such as a technical representative from your energy company.

Ice Machines

Commercial ice machines are actually small manufacturing plants that use water and electricity to produce cubed or flaked ice. Cube ice is clear and most often used where appearance is important, such as cocktail ice, carbonated beverages, and ice water for table service. Flake ice is used mostly for packing around food containers in self-serve cold food displays and salad bars. However, it is also used for beverages in smaller food service establishments, despite its reduced visual appeal.

Water purity to the ice machine is important and a water filter should be installed regardless of water conditions. Sizing the ice-making capacity of the machine depends on the type of restaurant and the number of patrons served. It is generally wise to size the storage small enough to force the ice machine to turn off during "off-peak" times by filling the bin.


Refrigerator Types

There are a wide range of refrigerator types. The most common types are described below.


Walk-in units

When a large amount of refrigeration space is needed, a walk-in unit is often the best choice. Walk-in units easily accommodate the bulk storage of refrigerated and frozen foods. They are manufactured in virtually any size or custom design, ranging from as small as 4 by 6 feet to units so large they approximate cold storage warehouses.

Walk-ins are available for both indoor and outdoor installation. Most are prefabricated, permitting flexible design and allowing manufacturers to meet nearly any special need.

Most restaurants use walk-ins predominately for bulk cold storage. However, restaurants may also use a portion of this space for pantry items. To accommodate this need, a popular option for a walk-in unit is one or more glass reach-in doors for easy access, with incidental access to the walk-in refrigerator. This option is considerably more efficient than using a separate small reach-in cooler.

The primary access doors for walk-ins come in a wide variety of designs. Traditional hinged doors with safety latches can be replaced with insulated double-swing doors. Some larger walk-in coolers also have sliding or overhead doors to provide clearance for forklifts.

Larger facilities often use multiple refrigeration units or zones. For example, one unit may be used to store fresh produce at 32° to 36°F, while meats are stored in a separate unit at 34° to 38°F. Dairy products and seafood are often kept in their own separate refrigeration units. However, it is obviously not feasible to have a separate walk-in for every type of product.

Smaller food service facilities with only one cooler generally operate them at 38°F with a typical freezer temperature kept between 0° and 5° Fahrenheit, or slightly colder if ice cream is stored.

Storage Temperatures
Frozen Foods -20° to 0°F
Ice Cream -15° to +15°F
Fish and Shellfish 23° to 30°F
Meat and Poultry 30° to 38°F
Dairy Products 38° to 46°F
Fruits and Vegetables 44° to 50°F