Product Knowledge Guide: Refrigerated Prep Tables

Refrigerated prep tables feature an area on top that provides a solid work surface and cooled compartments for sandwich, salad or pizza ingredients and a cooler below that holds pans of food at safe temperatures.


Refrigerated prep tables use two basic types of cooling. Forced air units use one coil that cools the base and rail zone. The base needs to be at 40 degrees F, while the top is at 41 degrees F. Forced air units operate better in lower heat/humidity applications because one coil manages two different temperature zones.

Wrapped wall or conductive cooling systems use copper lines wrapped around the tank or pan opening, providing thermo transfer of the cold through the unit's walls. This creates a cold blanket of air above the product to protect it from ambient kitchen conditions. Because the pans sit below the cold air, the top of the food stays at 41 degrees F.

The prep table segment can be divided into raised rail or pizza tables, flat prep tables used for sandwich and salad prep, and multipurpose counter prep units. Flat prep units typically use forced air cooling, but raised rail tables are about half forced air and half wrapped wall.

Foodservice operators can choose from a variety of sizes. Raised rail units or pizza prep units typically measure between 43 and 119 inches long, with heights between 35 and 40 inches. Pan capacity is calculated by 1/3 pans in the rail. For example, prep tables between 43 and 48 inches long can accommodate six 1/3 pans.

Mega top prep tables typically have pan openings measured in 1/6 pans.

Refrigerated prep tables feature different configurations. These units offer between one and four doors, and may provide up to eight shelves or drawers for storage. The interiors generally accommodate between 6 and 15 pans, depending on the model. Some units offer a flour filter to help keep the compressor housing clean. A drain in the unit's rail simplifies cleaning.

Wrapped rail/conductive cold wall cooling units may offer an on/off rail switch or separate controls for adjusting rail temperatures. A hot gas condensate evaporator and easy-to-remove gaskets also are standard on some units.

All models have stainless steel exteriors. Cabinet backs and bottoms are typically constructed of galvanized steel, while interiors can be stainless steel, painted aluminum or painted galvanized steel. Doors generally include foamed-in-place, high density polyurethane insulation.

Stay-open door features assist with easy loading. An automatic evaporator fan motor delay on some units stops when the door opens to prevent condensation from developing by mixing cold interior air with ambient air temperature. A 30-second stay open door alarm and 1-piece magnetic door gaskets are standard on some tables.

Common Applications

  • Refrigerated prep tables offer storage and prep space for ingredients that need to be cut, sliced or otherwise prepped before use.
  • Foodservice operators commonly use these units to prepare and store ingredients for sandwiches, salads, pizzas and other dishes. These units may store such ingredients as vegetables, cheese, pizza toppings, meat and fruit.
  • Along with salads, pizza and sandwiches, prep tables commonly hold and dispense sauces and dessert toppings.
  • These units also hold and dispense ingredients for a countless number of other items, including burgers, bagels, gyros and stir fry dishes.

Specifying Considerations

  • Consider the application and space availability before deciding on the unit's size. Common widths range from 27 to 120 inches. If space is an issue, a prep table with a small footprint that accommodates more pans may work best.
  • Units with drawers for backup pans will reduce the table's overall storage capacity.
  • Determine the type and number of ingredients, toppings or condiments being dispensed within the unit before deciding on the style and configuration.
  • Consider a prep table with a raised rail or flat-raised rail design when more working space and pan capacity is necessary.
  • If a built-in cutting board is necessary, note that the thickness and composite vary by manufacturer.
  • Calculate the number of doors and drawers necessary for pan storage.
  • Consider whether self-contained or remote refrigeration is the better option.
  • Specify the proper shelving kits, including racks, pan guides and universal tray slides to meet the operation's unique needs.
  • Specify the divider rails and pans that work best with the ingredients.

Specifying Mistakes to Avoid

  • Maintain proper clearances for airflow. Performance of the unit will suffer in the absence of adequate compressor airflow.
  • Do not place refrigerated prep tables in an area with excessive heat or humidity, as food temperature may be compromised in open ingredient areas. Avoid locations in direct sunlight or food temperatures may rise.
  • Refrain from placing these units in areas where large volumes of air move over the open food compartments, as this will dry out ingredients and may compromise food temperatures.
  • Verify cord length and type to ensure proper outlet type and installation height.

New & Notable Features

  • Options include a backsplash, drawers, different gauge thicknesses, casters, overshelves and pot racks. Units offering adjustable shelves and pans, in addition to
  • removable cutting boards, sneeze guards and crumb catchers, also are available.
  • These units are now Energy Star rated.
  • Finished backs in stainless steel or laminate are available.
  • Some units allow adding tray slides or creating dual-sided tables.
  • Different cover styles, from lift off to low profile, allow the unit to roll under existing shelves.
  • Glycol cooling is becoming more popular, but requires mainly remote systems.

When to Replace

  • Inconsistent temperatures: Proper temperatures are critical, so if the unit does not hold food at safe temperatures and the control settings do not compensate for this, it may be time for a new refrigerated prep table.
  • Excessive wear and tear: These units endure a great deal of wear and tear, especially in terms of the door gaskets and pan wells. Pans may not seat well, the unit may get dented and doors may get loose or not close properly. When these extensive and obvious signs of structural damage or wear and tear become apparent it may be time to purchase a new refrigerated prep table.
  • Inefficient, older unit: Older prep t
  • Frequent breakdowns: The warning signs that a refrigerated prep table may need replacing include repeat or continuous failures of the different components within the unit. If the cost of repairs becomes close to or more than the amount for a new unit, it may be time to replace the prep table.
  • ables use outdated refrigerants and technology, making them more expensive to operate. Operations looking to increase their energy efficiency may want to consider purchasing a new model to save on operating costs.

Maintenance Musts

Prep tables are one of the most frequently used and
abused pieces of equipment in the kitchen. For this reason, foodservice operators should take extra care in cleaning and maintaining these units.

Please note that the list below contains general maintenance information and should not be substituted for the manufacturer's requirements and recommendations.

  • Routinely clean condensers for a long and energy-efficient service life. Dirty condensers increase system pressures, putting added stress on the compressor, which can lead to failure. When dust inhibits the system from rejecting heat it puts stress on the compressor and heats up the condenser fan motor. This results in bearing lubricant outgassing, which dries the bearings and causes the condenser fan motor to fail.
  • Clean monthly and replace condenser unit filters as needed.
  • Defrost cold wall refrigeration daily.
  • Prep tables have many nooks and crannies where food can become trapped and bacteria may build up. Proper and thorough cleaning is essential, keeping in mind that harsher chemicals may damage the unit's surfaces.
  • Regularly clean door and drawer gaskets to help the
  • material remain flexible and improve its ability to seal.
  • Be aware that, when pan ledges on the top of the table
  • become dented or damaged, pans won't fit properly and cold air will escape from the unit's refrigerated base. When this occurs, the refrigeration system will run
  • more often, compromising energy efficiency and possibly shortening the prep table's service life.

Editor's Note: FE&S thanks Eric Norman, FCSI, of MVP Services for assisting with this article.

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