Maintaining Store Equipment

You may have heard the old line, "Is your refrigerator running? Well then, you better go catch it!" But improper equipment maintenance is no laughing matter; it can cost you money and customers. The last thing you want to develop is a reputation for soft ice cream, sour milk, and wilted collard greens. Clean, efficiently operating refrigerated cases and storage walk-ins are an essential part of the grocery businesses.

There are many different styles of refrigerations units available, each designed fora specific application. Whether your store has a sophisticated assortment of walk-ins with display doors, multi-deck produce cases, and European style curved glass deli cases, or a hodgepodge of freezer chests, meat cases serving as produce cases, and an assortment of two-and three-door coolers "on loan" from soda and beer distributors, the following pointers hold true:

  • Frost build-up reduces equipment efficiency greatly and at the same time can damage product appearance and salability. Excessive frost is usually caused by unwanted moisture. Irregular defrost cycles and moisture absorbed from the surrounding atmosphere are the culprits.
    Defrost cycles can be adjusted rather easily in most cases (no pun intended!). Check with your local refrigeration expert; s/he can show you how to adjust yours. If your case has doors, be sure the seals are intact and airtight.
  • Clean and service your refrigerated cases thoroughly at least once every quarter. Refrigerated systems consist of only a few simple components. A mechanical compressor (usually electric) forces a gas, typically freon, through a condensing unit containing copper coils that, in turn, cool the surrounding air. Many units also have fans that circulate the cooled air throughout the case. Excessive moisture is generally removed through a drain or evaporator. Compressors can either be remote (separate from the case in a well ventilated area), or self contained (mounted either under or on top of the case itself).
    Simple routine maintenance should include the following:
    1. Quarterly inspection of the compressor unit for signs of oil leakage, belt wear and tear, and gas leaks. I recommend that this be done by a service professional. A well maintained compressor can last 25 years or more, whereas replacement can cost thousands of dollars in down time, lost produce, and customer dissatisfaction. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish.
    2. Defrost and clean the case thoroughly. After removing the product to a temporary storage location, defrost the unit, removing all built up ice and frost from the condenser and coils, shelves, case walls and drains. Using hot soapy water, wash all surfaces to remove any sludge or debris from product spills, etc. Use a putty knife if necessary to scrape off those hard to remove caked-on "accidents." Be sure any mold or mildew is thoroughly removed. Flush drains and empty evaporator pans. Wipe all interior surfaces dry with a clean absorbent cloth to avoid frost. Check your case for air filters that have clogged with dust; keep these clean or replace them frequently.
    Clean all exterior surfaces frequently. Remove tape or other debris from glass display doors and touch up nicks with appliance paint before rust develops. Be sure all display lights are in working order.
  • Every refrigerated case was designed to do a specific job; don't expect all purpose results. Proper temperature can only be held through proper maintenance. Here are some temperature guidelines:

    ice cream: -20 to -10 degrees
    frozen foods: -10 to 0 degrees
    dairy: 32 to 36 degrees
    deli, meats: 32 to 36 degrees
    produce: 34 to 38 degrees
    walk-ins: 34 to 40 degrees,
    depending on produce line

    (Note: Actual case temperatures and thermometer readings may vary.)

Regular maintenance on your refrigerated cases will add years of service and satisfaction, and will allow you to concentrate on the day to day needs of your co-op's business of selling food rather than the frustrations of a "meltdown" at the worst possible time.

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