As temperatures rise during the summer months, it seems like refrigeration problems are an all-too-frequent companion to the summer heat. And it’s not your imagination. Your refrigerated units do have to work harder in the warmer months. But by choosing an appropriate product for your specific type of business and usage, you can get much more efficient use out of your commercial reach-in.
Let’s walk through some of the issues to consider when purchasing a new commercial reach-in refrigerator or freezer.
Table of Contents
- Refrigerators vs Freezers
- Interior Airflow
- Compressor Location
- Door Handles
- Other Features & Benefits
- Energy Costs
- When to Replace Your Reach-In
What type of environment will your reach-in stay in? Do you run a pizza parlor and you plan on putting your refrigerator next to the oven? How about a freezer in a hot storage room with no temperature control?
Your refrigerator or freezer shouldn’t have to work extra hard to keep your food out of the Danger Zone. Long-term exposure to high heat will wear out your compressor much faster. This makes your choice of unit and proper maintenance even more important.
When possible, place your reach-in where there isn’t much temperature fluctuation. If you need your fridge on the front line or in a crowded kitchen next to cooking equipment, pick a heavy-duty name brand that can handle the heat. Most entry-level models are not built to withstand long periods of sub-optimal conditions.
Measure Space – Don’t Forget Height
Refrigerators don’t come in standard sizes – don’t just think length and width – think height! Placing reach-ins side-by-side in our warehouse, we found that some could even be several inches different in height with casters on.
Reach-ins with top-mounted compressors (more on that later) need extra space above for ventilation, which means you need to ensure there is some clearance between the top of your unit and the ceiling. Airflow is critical, so be sure to account for this when choosing the placement for the unit within your kitchen.
Reach-ins can be placed directly next to each other, but as we’ve stated before, be careful placing your freezer next to a hot deep-fryer even if it fits perfectly.
And don’t forget the casters! Don’t simply rely on the cabinet dimensions if your unit is going to include casters. Making sure you have appropriate space and clearances is a critical first step in choosing a unit.
Finally, give some thought to access for maintenance. Proper care of your unit’s coils, fan motor and compressor are key to extending the life of your unit. And if things go wrong, you want to be able to easily service your unit. Can it be serviced from the front or does it need to be pulled out? How will you clean the coils regularly?
- Lower-end reach-ins typically carry a 1-year parts and labor warranty.
- Higher-end reach-ins typically carry a 3-year parts and labor warranty.
- Compressor warranties are typically 5 years.
Ask questions about the warranty before you make a purchase.
How does the warranty service work? Do you know who to call? Research how close certified service technicians are to your location.
Imports may be more difficult to get service on, especially past their 1-year warranty period.
Are Reach-In Refrigerators and Freezers different from one another?
Typically, no. The main difference is the compressor – but the rest of the build of a box is the same between refrigerators and freezers.
A typical restaurant usually needs a 2-door refrigerator and a 1-door freezer unless you’re working with more frozen food.
Refrigerators and freezers are meant to keep food the same temperature from top-to-bottom. Even airflow is especially important for raw chicken, seafood, dairy, and frozen foods.
Overcrowding or cramming sheet pans flush with the rear of the reach-in will restrict airflow. That’s why some manufacturers will use a wire grid on the rear wall or a lip on the shelving rack to block items from being pushed all the way back.
Avoid reach-ins that offer no barriers from sheet pans or food boxes from being pushed all the way back.
Lower-end units often have less airflow options. This can actually be a double whammy because the unit has to work harder to keep things stored in the unit at the proper temperature and, as we mentioned previously, lower-end units are not typically well-suited to less-than-optimal situations. Compressors are under more stress, the unit uses more energy and at the end of the day, you may end up paying more over time to run an economy unit than if you had purchased even a slightly upgraded model.
This is something that is easily misunderstood at time of purchase. Consumers are often very cost sensitive (and rightly so). But choosing to save a little up front can end up costing you much, much more in the end when you consider the overall life of the unit and the increased energy costs which can be substantial.
Manufacturers mount the compressor on either the bottom or the top of the unit. Why is that? Is one better than the other? It really depends on how you intend to use the unit and where the unit will be placed within your kitchen environment.
Bottom-Mounted Compressor Facts
- Easier serviceability since you don’t need a ladder.
- You can stack items on top of the reach-in.
- A room’s ambient temperature is typically lower closer to the floor so it’s less work on the compressor if you’re in a hotter environment.
- Ideal for use near cooking lines since grease-laden vapors rise with the heat.
Top-Mounted Compressor Facts
- Cannot stack products on top of reach-in.
- Ideal for environments using dry ingredients or other dusty areas to avoid debris being sucked into the compressor.
- A lower bottom shelf allows for easier access. Similarly, the top shelf height is lower. Overall, easier for shorter individuals to operate.
- Heat from the mechanical parts of the unit will rise away from the unit since they are on top resulting in some efficiency gains.
Casters are the wheels attached to the bottom of heavy commercial equipment like reach-ins, undercounter prep tables, worktables, etc. Most commercial reach-ins are on casters.
Casters don’t come in standard sizes and heights. Spend some time gliding the reach-in on the floor, and the ease of braking with your foot. Height is also important, since you need to consider clearance and airflow around your unit.
Gaskets are the rubber seal lining the refrigerator door and insulating your food inside the box.
Gaskets take a lot of abuse all day, everyday as your staff opens and closes the refrigerator door. Over time, gaskets can get lose and tear off the door. The good news is that most gaskets are easily replaceable.
Most refrigeration companies do not cover gaskets on their warranties since they are typical wear-and-tear.
Consider looking for reach-ins that offer interior step gaskets. The gaskets are slightly recessed in the door, which helps minimize wear a provides a tighter, longer seal.
Keeping your gaskets clean is important. But be careful not to use harsh chemicals. A light soap and water mixture is typically enough to clean most gaskets. Some users like to include some baking soda to the mix as well.
Gaskets can also dry out and become brittle over time. If this occurs, the integrity of the refrigerator seal becomes compromised. This means that the unit will have to work harder to maintain the appropriate temperature and consumes more energy. Some manufacturers recommend periodically lubricating the gasket to extend its life. Check with the individual manufacturer to determine the best option for your specific unit.
The ergonomics of door handles on a reach-in are paramount for chefs and line cooks who will be in and out of them all day. Try grabbing the handles from different angles and at different speeds so you can roughly visualize how you or your staff will be interacting with your refrigerator or freezer.
Full-Door Recessed Handles
- Handle runs alongside the entire door, from top-to-bottom.
- Ideal for easy opening no matter where you hands are while holding a heavy stock pot and need a free pinky to open the door.
- Handle is on the front of the door but recessed inside of the door.
- May not be as ergonomic as full-door recessed handles but are still low-profile compared to protruding handles.
- Be sure to frequently clean the inside of the recessed area since you won’t easily see the build-up of grease and substances. (Out of sight, out of mind!)
- Easy to grab and clean, but they are also prone to wear.
- Some handles have visible screws that can be tightened but others may only be accessible from within the door. Maintenance (like tightening the screws that can come loose over time due to wear and tear) can be complicated as you may have to disassemble part of the door to access the proper parts.
- These type of handles are also naturally high-profile and another object for kitchen workers to bump into, so be aware of the space your reach-in will be placed, especially when opening in a cramped corridor. Getting clothing hung up on a door handle in a crowded kitchen space is no fun.
Other Features & Benefits to Consider
- Need to fit a full size sheet pan? Many commercial reach-ins can’t fit one – but most Hoshizakis do.
- American made? Imported reach-ins tend to be lower quality.
- Welded corners? Typically easier to clean. Avoids build-up of dust, ingredients, and germs.
- Outside digital temperature display? Convenient and becoming standard on most reach-ins – digital displays are much easier to read than analog displays.
- Does the door stay open or swing shut? Doors that stay open could accidentally leak out/in air. People rushing through could accidentally leave the door open. But could be beneficial for grabbing items.
- Locking mechanism? Many reach-ins have a locking feature to keep products safe.
Maintaining Your Compressor, Coils and Fan
Service your compressor every six months to a year. Clean the fans and coils regularly. Remove dust and listen for odd noises which can be an early warning sign of trouble. The older it gets, the more often it should be done.
The environment impacts the compressor as well. A bakery working with flour every day will require compressor coil cleanings more frequently than a refrigerator that sits in a break room.
Many restaurants forget cleaning their refrigeration units as part of their routine maintenance cycles. Establishing clear processes and a defined schedule (and assigned responsibility) for the care and maintenance of your refrigeration unit can add years to its life and drastically reduce your energy costs. It’s truly one of the easiest and most cost-effective things you can do for your business.
What About Energy Costs?
Refrigeration tends to be the single biggest energy use in your typical restaurant environment. You have probably heard of the ENERGY STAR® program. ENERGY STAR is a government program that certifies energy efficiency.
Using an ENERGY STAR certified refrigerator can save you big money in energy costs. More energy-efficient models can use as much as 35% less energy than lower quality units. And this is under ideal conditions. The difference can be even greater when you consider some of the challenges faced by using lower-end units. As we mentioned above: if a unit has poor airflow energy, costs go up.
If a unit has a dirty or clogged fan or dusty coils, your energy costs go up again.
Energy costs are often overlooked as consumers evaluate the total cost of ownership of a particular unit. The total cost of ownership is the actual cost to purchase and run a unit over its useful life. If you factor in lifetime energy usage, you will often find that it is in your best interest to buy a better reach-in initially as it will save money over the life of the unit. Savings on both energy costs and maintenance can be substantial.
When to Replace Your Reach-In
Don’t put off replacing your whole refrigerator or freezer if you run into these issues outside of the compressor warranty period:
- The inside runs hot.
- Wide temperature fluctuations.
- Units older than 10 years need to be regularly serviced.
Take regular temperature checks and keep a log.
We recommend you move your kitchen toward a HACCP program by utilizing Comark Kitchen Checks, where you can easily automate your temperature checks with Bluetooth thermometers that sync up to their app.
If your compressor is broken and out of warranty, it is normally not worth installing a new compressor since that is the most expensive part of the whole unit. Add in wear and tear on things like the fan motor, the coils, and the door gaskets and it’s not hard to justify moving to a new unit altogether.
Have questions or need additional tips? Give us a call: 866-634-8927