Refrigerated prep tables offer foodservice operators convenient cold storage along with space where they can prep a variety of raw ingredients for such menu items as salads, sandwiches and pizza. Culinary staff can slice, dice and chop ingredients before combining them with other items in this space.
Because the tops of these units contain a finite amount of product in pans of varying sizes, operators must determine what the menu requirements will be and how many ingredients the prep table will need to hold to make the work space efficient. A common mistake foodservice operators make is not taking into consideration the volume of food that needs prepping. It's important to consider not only the capacity required for the present but also what will be needed for additional menu items and volume in the future.
Understanding prep table footprints is also key to proper sizing. Although manufacturers offer a variety of prep table sizes, the most common dimensions are 27 to 28 inches wide, in lengths of three, four, five and six feet.
Verifying how much space is available and where the unit will be located in the kitchen will also help determine what size prep table should be specified. Operators should keep in mind that this equipment will need to fit through doorways and around corners when delivered to the kitchen.
Foodservice operators across many segments can use prep tables both as work boxes in the back of the house and as merchandising tools for sandwich preparation and other tasks in view of customers. For front-of-house units, it may be prudent to specify food shields or sneeze guards as well.
Menus also help determine how much landing or work space is necessary for food prep. Most tables provide a 10-inch cutting board, but larger sizes are available for foodservice operations that need more work space.
Although prep-table tops are generally standard in terms of the different pan formats available, operators can choose bases with doors or with drawers that can be configured for multiple pan sizes. Because the interiors hold anywhere from six to 15 pans, it's important to determine storage needs prior to deciding on a prep table.
When selecting a refrigerated prep table, foodservice operators and their supply chain partners should also take into account ventilation. Like all refrigeration units, a refrigerated prep table needs clearance around the sides and back. Some units have stoppers in the back, which prevent these tables from sitting flush against walls. Other models exhaust heat from the front.
To ensure efficient operation, foodservice operators need to consider a kitchen's ambient temperature and the unit's proximity to heat. NSF requires that sandwich tables must hold product between 33 and 41 degrees F while operating in environments with ambient temperatures of 86 degrees and a relative humidity of 55 percent at a minimum of four hours with the lids open. In harsh environments where lids stay open longer, units that exceed NSF regulations may be necessary.
The operation, application and environment, in addition to ambient temperatures, will dictate the type of prep table cooling system that is most appropriate. Forced-air cooling uses a coil that cools the base and rail zone. These units operate best in operations with lower heat and humidity, since one coil manages two different temperature zones. Wrapped-wall or conductive cooling systems utilize copper lines wrapped around the tank or pan opening and provide thermo transfer of cold through a prep table's walls, creating a cold blanket of air that protects products — which are contained in recessed pans — from ambient temperatures.
Three Types of Refrigerated Prep Tables
It's important to note that although refrigerated prep table ratings are for 1/3-size pans, these units can hold different configurations of various pan sizes.