In the micro market industry, commercial refrigeration maintenance of units, or the lack of it, has a direct effect on food safety. Lack of maintenance impacts a machine’s cooling and energy efficiency, making the equipment work harder, resulting in higher energy costs and causing machinery to break down sooner from overuse, and eventually food spoilage and loss of profitability for your micro market business.
Scheduled maintenance of commercial refrigeration equipment is more important than ever before, with sanitation and prevention being at the top of everyone’s mind during this pandemic. Health inspections are routinely being conducted and if your units are not maintaining temperature, the result is violations and hefty fines that can impact your profits and reputation.
It’s simply not good business ethics to incur food safety violations because your cooling units are not running optimally. Maintenance of your commercial freezers or refrigerators does not always require a service call and a visit from an outside expert, you can do this yourself or give trusted staff minor scheduled maintenance jobs to oversee the health of your cooling display merchandisers. In-house maintenance performed on a regular basis not only helps extend the life of equipment, but it’s also often mandatory for keeping warranty coverage intact.
Wipe down high-touch areas
Commercial refrigeration display coolers and freezer doors are always being opened and closed by shoppers. If you’re not cleaning the handles, glass, door framing and wiping down the exterior of your units, bacteria and today’s virus can survive on the surfaces for quite a few days. It goes without saying, that you should be wiping down, at least a few times a day, unit handles and exterior doors frequently with a disinfectant. If you want to be even more accommodating to your customers, you can keep hand sanitizer or sanitizing hand wipes (with at least 70% alcohol content) right next to your glass door refrigeration units.
Food safety: keep the bugs at bay
Micro market operators should conduct a deep clean of their commercial refrigeration units monthly. While cleaning of micro markets is more crucial than ever before to operators/owners, they have been going above and beyond food safety. This is just a reminder, that if units are not adequately maintained and cleaned, or if their temperature is not stabilized, commercial refrigerators and freezers can quickly become bacterial havens. Given the right breeding conditions, bacteria found in food can double every 10 minutes. We always like to share that if you keep the “ACT” acronym in mind, the best practices of “Airflow, Cleaning and Temperature," that’s the best medicine your display merchandisers can get.
Oxygen helps it run efficiently
A commercial refrigerator or freezer’s blocked condenser can cause equipment failure, overheating, spoiled product, higher electrical costs and even possibly lead to a void on your warranty. Think of your lungs and how they allow you to function and live. Your condenser is the same, it’s the ‘lungs’ of your refrigeration merchandisers. Refrigeration installation instructions will advise that your cooling units should be kept away from surrounding walls and should be nowhere next to equipment that emanates heat or produces airborne oil and grime. Units should also each have their own dedicate electrical outlet, and once installed, inspections to verify for blockages should be routine.
How you store your food and beverage products inside the unit makes a big difference. Think uniformity, your products should be shelved evenly inside the unit. Overloading can block the interior airflow, and this can contribute to food safety issues, such as spoiled food. That said, you should not over stock the shelves either as the thermal mass of the frozen or refrigerated products makes it easier to keep the interior temperature. The takeaway is to keep your commercial refrigeration cabinet sufficiently stocked, but not over packed.
Cleaning and inspection are essential
Keep strong cleaners like bleach away from your glass door refrigerators and freezer, they can compromise the quality of the food in the units and impact the smell and potentially the taste of the food products that you sell. Consider using a food-safe detergent and soft cloth, this allows the soap to interfere with bacterial fats, which lifts pathogens and viruses from surfaces and is then rinsed off by water. The soft cloth is best to prevent the scratching of a unit’s glass door. Do not spray any undiluted cleaner directly to the unit, excessive liquid can seep into the electrical zones and cause a unit to malfunction or an electrical hazard. Every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) sets its own cleaning procedure guidelines for their refrigeration equipment, and you should always follow those guidelines. Some tips to consider for self-contained commercial units are:
- Leave the doors open to dry the interior of the unit, then wipe all surfaces with a food-safe detergent. There are some areas that will be inaccessible, so it’s important to leave the doors open and provide sufficient airflow to evaporate the majority of the moisture.
- Always unplug your unit before cleaning. (Some units may still run fan motors and electronics even when switched off.)
- Extra time is required to fully melt ice in commercial freezers, especially chest-style freezers without automatic defrosts. Avoid scraping ice from the inside of the unit, as this may damage the unit or even puncture the wall, potentially damaging the refrigeration system.
- Remove all products from the unit and thoroughly clean any spillage inside, as this can cause foul odors and mold to form.
- Inspect the unit for any damage. For example, when wiping down the doors, check for gaps or tears in the gaskets. If you’re not able to snap them back into place, they need to be replaced.
- Leave the door propped open slightly to allow any remaining moisture to escape. Failing to do so can also lead to odor and mold forming inside of the unit.
- If your unit has a conventional condenser, remove the front grill and use a small, hand-held duster to clean inside, and, if necessary, a vacuum cleaner to clean up any additional debris. Then, reattach the front grill. Some units are built with low maintenance condensers which require regular visual inspections and much less frequent cleaning than conventional condensers.
- The rubber gaskets that create the seal between the door and the cabinet will become worn and/or damaged with overtime/with extended use. Regularly run your fingers along the gasket when the door is open to check for bumps, indentations, or other issues. Do the same when the door is closed and take note of any cold air escaping. Check hinges and handles to ensure the doors close properly.
- When restarting the equipment, allow the unit to cool down to its ideal operating temperature before loading it with product.
- To avoid any contamination, keep cleaning equipment for refrigeration units separate from those used for floors or other equipment in the store.
- Some glass doors include special coatings to enhance thermal and visual performance that can be damaged using inappropriate cleaners. Follow specific directions as outlined in the equipment manual for your model.
Keep temperature in check
A healthy temperature is a healthy refrigeration unit. Temperature variations can potentially spur bacterial growth, pathogens and cross-contamination. Micro market refrigeration units are being opened and closed all day for access to food product, so maintaining optimal temperatures within the unit is essential. Take for example, chilled foods like microwavable meals should be kept within the 37°F to 41°F range. Short spikes, not exceeding 30 minutes, above 41°F are acceptable. If you do not have a temperature malfunctioning safeguard, you should aim to monitor temperatures frequently to make sure they are within the healthy range. For efficiency, sanitize the handles on merchandiser doors, which you need to do often, while monitoring the temperature.
Micro markets have stepped up their game and are leading the way with pandemic preventative measure and tech innovations, like touchless payment and door opening, IoT remote monitoring reducing customer touch points. Additionally, purchasing freezers and refrigerators equipped with self-cleaning condensers, digital thermostats and food safety locks also go a long way in protecting your products and, more importantly, the people you’re selling them to.
Consider buying units that have digital thermostats built in, which will monitor the internal temperature and issue alerts if doors are left open. Use fully integrated smart monitors, such as Minus Forty’s Smart Lock, that detect when a high temperature threshold has been reached. It’s essential to operating safely and maintaining product integrity.
Unattended retail, specifically micro markets, is a thriving business that relies on well running commercial refrigeration technology. It’s important to keep regular checkups and maintenance protocols in mind to protect your products on the shelf, and to extend the life of your units. When taking good care of your units, you are also taking care of your customers. Well-maintained units are safe and healthy units that serve the needs of your customers and ultimately help your business thrive and be profitable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Robichaud is warranty and service manager of Minus Forty.