Product Knowledge Guide: Shelving

Operators can choose from a variety of shelving unit types, including standalone stationary, multiple units mounted on track systems, wall-mounted or mobile, such as those configured as utility carts.

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High-density or active-aisle type systems allow multiple shelving units to slide left or right on tracks, which lead to flexible configurations that provide more storage in limited spaces. Operators can choose to bolt the tracks to the floor or hold them down by using the force of gravity and the weight placed on the shelves to keep these units stable.

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Most shelves attach to posts with built-in or snap-on wedges that may include corner connectors, making them generally easy to assemble without the use of tools. In terms of setup, the more complicated the shelving system is to construct, the more operators will pay for installation and also the more difficult it will be to adjust shelving positions to accommodate different sized items.

Shelving materials include wire-in finishes that incorporate zinc and chrome-plated epoxy coating with a zinc substrate, polymer and a hybrid of wire and polymer. There are units made from composite material and also other systems made of a steel core encapsulated by a thick polypropylene outer layer. These can hold just as much weight as the counterpart shelving units made from other materials, but offer a memory feature that prevents permanent bending or bowing of the shelving traverses.

Lengths for these systems come in 6-inch increments and range from 18 to 72 inches. Shelf widths typically range between 14 and 36 inches, with composite shelving going up to 78 inches wide. Stationary unit heights can be anywhere from 24 to 84 inches high.

The weight-bearing capacity per shelf reduces as these units get larger. For example, shelves up to 48 inches in size can sustain up to 800 pounds per shelf, while units that are between 54 and 72 inches can withstand up to 600 pounds per shelf. Longer units can exhibit bending or bowing if weights exceed these recommended capacities. Shelves can even break when overloaded. Brackets are available to increase the weight-bearing capacity of the bottom shelf, up to 1,000 pounds.

Common Applications

  • When situated under work stations or in kitchen nooks, shelving can provide additional storage for a specific task.
  • Operators can use shelving to store almost any item in both dry and wet areas. NSF-listed epoxy-coated wire shelves and units made of composite materials are best-suited for use in walk-in coolers and freezers. Some NSF shelving should only be used in dry environments.
  • Multiple mobile units on tracks that slide back and forth conserve space and provide better access to stored items.

Specifying Considerations

  • First consider the application when specifying the system's size, material and accessories. Also, different shelves are geared for various uses. For example, mobile shelving is best-suited for items that will be transported.
  • Operators can place shelving against the wall or use it as a divider in the kitchen, which helps maximize options. Shelves with post-sharing capabilities can connect two units, which helps maximize space in a walk-in because it prevents any gaps or unused space in between shelving. High-density or active-aisle type systems allow operators to place more shelving in limited spaces due to more flexible configurations. Some floor systems can help increase storage capacity by building up in height.
  • Properly assess the environment where the shelving will reside because some materials hold up better in certain climates than others. Wet environments can cause rusting on chrome wire shelving, so polypropylene or composite materials may be a better choice for these applications.
  • Consider the types of items the system will store. Operators who rotate recipes or work with assorted container sizes should consider shelving they can easily reconfigure. Vented shelf plates work best for items requiring more air circulation.
  • The total weight and size of items being stored will help determine the appropriate span between posts and shelves to maximize space. Weight-bearing capacity per shelf reduces as these units gets larger. Shelves up to 48 inches in size can sustain up to 800 pounds per shelf, while units that are between 54 and 72 inches can withstand up to 600 pounds per shelf.

Specifying Mistakes to Avoid

  • Operators should be aware that some shelving listed as NSF may be suitable for dry environments but is not recommended for use in wet or humid areas.
  • For systems used in walk-ins, operators must take into account the shelving's height and width to ensure the unit will clear the doorway and ceiling.
  • Operators commonly ignore vacant wall space they can allocate for storage. Take advantage of these valuable areas, particularly when space is at a premium. Many areas of the kitchen can serve a dual purpose with the appropriate shelving systems.
  • When storing heavy or large items, follow proper ergonomic standards by allocating the shelf space between the chest and knees for these items. Employees forced to bend to the floor or reach overhead to pick up big, weighty items are more apt to get injured than if lifting from the center of the body while using bent knees for extra support.
  • One common mistake operators make is purchasing a stationary shelf then converting it to a mobile unit by
  • attaching casters. In some cases, altering the system in this manner will void the warranty. Manufacturers can provide additional details so this issue can be avoided.

New & Notable Features

  • Units with casters and bumpers are best suited for transporting items. Removable shelf plates or polymer mats for wire units are easily cleaned in the dishwasher or washed by hand.
  • Color-coded signage can help prevent cross contamination. Some manufacturers provide removable labels that can be easily switched out as menus and ingredients change. The addition of shelf ledges will help prevent objects from falling off of the unit.
  • Other shelving options include tray racks, security cages, divider bars for food pans and drying racks.

When to Replace

When properly maintained, shelving units can last anywhere from 7 to 15 years or more. However, there are a number of signs that may signify a unit needs replacing.

  • Rust and corrosion: Excessive rust and corrosion on metal shelving, along with wear and tear on its edges, may compromise stability.
  • Structural issues: It is uncommon for shelves to break apart, but improper use may lead to bowing and bending. And severe instances of bowing and bending may compromise safety.
  • Changing storage needs: Operators should consider reassessing their storage needs on a regular basis. When more space is necessary or the storage environment changes, it may be time to replace a shelving system.

Maintenance Musts

Maintaining shelving is important from a safety standpoint, since corrosion can compromise the stability of these systems. There are a number of necessary tasks that operators should perform regularly to keep these units in top condition and prolong the service life.

  • Shelving used in high-moisture areas, in particular, should include features that provide easier cleaning, such as removable shelf mats or covers that can be clipped down over wire shelving.
  • Regularly wash panels either by hand or in a dishwasher.
  • Debris and grease can build up on shelves, so these systems should be wiped down weekly using mild detergents and soft cloths.
  • To simplify cleaning and save time, staff members can focus on cleaning different shelf levels on alternate days of the week.
  • Casters on mobile shelves should be lubricated each year.

Food Safety Considerations

  • Regular wear and tear, along with grease and debris buildup, can do a number on even heavy-duty shelving. Proper cleaning of food storage areas and shelves helps prevent foodborne illness, so cleanability should be a factor when specifying these units.
  • Regular cleaning is especially important for systems used in high moisture areas.
  • Removable shelf plates or polymer mats for use with wire systems are available that can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher or washed by hand.
  • Some newer shelving units include panels that can be lifted off and washed in dishwashers.
  • Another option for creating more sanitary storage systems are shelf covers, which typically clip down over wire shelving. Some include individual tabs for labeling each section.
  • Using color-coded signage can help prevent cross contamination by separating meat and produce, for example. Some manufacturers provide removable labels that can be easily switched out as menus and ingredients change.

Editor's Note: FE&S thanks William Bender, FCSI, of W.H. Bender and Associates for assisting with this article.

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