Hot Holding Cabinets

Types: This category includes stationary, reach-in and roll-in rack systems or mobile cabinets for transporting heated foods. Hot holding cabinets are typically differentiated by heat systems and the different size trays or pans the units will hold. Most manufacturers either have a top- or bottom-mounted heat system, which consists of a heating element and, in some instances, components that facilitate air movement inside the cabinet. There is usually an option for humidity control to help improve holding conditions for foods that are more prone to drying out. Heating systems provided include convected air with fan-driven circulation, radiant heat with no mechanical air movement and humidity control systems with thermostatically controlled air temperatures from ambient up to 200 degrees F and humidity generated from ambient to 95 relative humidity (RH). Cabinets are available insulated, which tend to be more energy efficient, and non-insulated, for economy and short-term holding needs. Cabinets are typically constructed of aluminum, stainless steel or a combination of both.

Capacities/Footprints: Capacities will vary, depending on the overall size of the cabinet. Units of various sizes, from under counter (32 inches or less in height), half-size, three-quarter size and full size (70 to 82 inches tall), handle capacities from four 12˝ x 20˝ x 2½˝ hotel pans to up to 36 steam table pans. Floor space can be from 6 to 9 square feet on mobile cabinets to handle gastronome pans and standard 18˝ x 26˝ sheet pans with Universal Angle-style interiors. Internal capacities can range from 6 cubic feet to more than 24 cubic feet.

Energy Sources: Traditionally, electricity has driven hot food holding, even with the use of generators for off-site events. Single cabinets require 1,200 to 1,500 watts of electrical power, while double cabinets may use 1,800 to 2,000 watts. One- and two-drawer warmers may be equipped with dual-wattage controls of 600 watts on the low end to 1,200 watts on the high end for more precise temperature control. Canned fuel comes in a variety of sources and has been used to help holding cabinets keep foods at safe temperatures. Caterers have the option of using propane units for a mobile energy source.

Standard Features: Controls for temperature adjustment and display are standard on these units. Bumpers, push/pull handles, welded and riveted construction with tubular base frames or solid one-piece extended bases are common. Thermometer and operational range thermostats that go from 90 to 190 degrees F are included with most cabinets. Cabinet doors are usually constructed of stainless steel or aluminum with positive or magnetic latches in one- or two-door configurations and are available with tempered-glass windows. Dutch doors on full-size units are common to deter heat loss. Right- or left-hand hinged doors add convenience and allow for more flexibility when installing the unit. Some units are standard with field-reversible doors, which are convenient when cabinets are relocated at a later date. Pass-through and half-door configurations are also available. Many holding cabinet models are stackable. Locking casters provide added stability. Space-saving single-drawer and multidrawer units hold different foods within proper temperature ranges prior to serving. Rear-panel outlets allow multiple single-drawer units to be conveniently powered from one electrical source. Power cords can be rear or side mounted.

New Features/Technology/Options: The biggest advancements with heated cabinets have been related to regulating temperature and humidity levels with greater accuracy. Current hot cabinets utilize controls that are more precise and allow users to more accurately establish and maintain particular food environments. Systems are available for HAACP programs to automatically generate temperature histories of both the food items and the air.

Options for these units include door locks, bumper systems, window doors, push/pull handles, towing systems and casters to handle specific terrains. Color treatments and vinyl wraps containing graphics are available. Countdown timer systems and humidity display and control systems are also optional features. Extreme product control and usage can be specified for use in correctional facilities. Some units provide electrical options and security features, in addition to tray/pan/plate-holding shelves and/or slides.

Key Kitchen Applications: Holding cabinets prolong the time that food can be held fresh and flavorful before being served, thus allowing the cooking equipment to continue producing additional food items. When high-volume demand requires a short window of delivery or service time (as with school lunches and banquets) the need to prepare ahead and hold the food is paramount. Also, operations that serve high volumes of foods that require longer cooking times (for example, barbecue and rotisserie-cooked foods) will require the ability to cook in advance.

Purchasing Guidelines: Foodservice operators should determine the size of cabinets needed to fit their operations. Aluminum construction cabinets are more lightweight for transporting and for delivery operations. Stainless steel is easier to maintain and clean and is more durable to caustic cleaning chemicals. Both metals will dent and scratch over time. If a foodservice operator moves a holding cabinet frequently and for long distances, such as for off-site catering functions, heavy-duty models with larger casters are recommended. Some models place electrical components, controls and water reservoirs on top for easy and quick access.

As with other types of equipment, operators should be familiar with state and municipal rules and regulations and how they affect the use of these units. For instance, conspicuous thermometers are commonly required in all hot holding cabinets where potentially hazardous foods are stored.

Maintenance Requirements: Each day, proper cleaning agents should be used to wipe and sanitize holding cabinets, including rinsing the units' interiors. Removable tray slides can make stainless steel cabinet interiors easier to clean and maintain. Some models come with self-contained removable tops, allowing operators to hose down the interior more easily during cleaning.

Food Safety and Sanitation Essentials: Insulated cabinets and those configured to hold foods at higher temperatures can keep products out of food risk zones for longer time periods. Foods must be maintained above 141 degree F for proper food safety. Operators will often set the internal cabinet temperatures about 10 degrees higher than the desired internal food temperature to compensate for door openings and heat loss during standard daily business.
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