Spec Check: Shelving

Most foodservice operators struggle with correlating menu size with storage areas. The fact that kitchen layouts vary and extra space typically comes at a premium only makes this more challenging.

shelvingFortunately, foodservice operators can choose from a variety of shelving options to address their storage problems. While these units typically address storage issues, they can serve multiple purposes, such as displaying and transporting food products, supplies and cookware.

Improperly stored items can negatively impact a kitchen's efficiency. Specifying the right amount and type of shelving not only improves workflow but enhances an operator's ability to provide the best customer service for patrons.

Operators seeking short-term storage solutions may want to keep shelving costs to a minimum, however, those looking for a long service life should invest in sturdy units.

The applications for these systems vary, depending on the shelf type. These units can be stand-alone stationary, multiple units mounted on track systems, and wall-mounted or mobile, such as those configured as utility carts. When situated under workstations or in kitchen nooks, shelving can provide additional storage for a specific task.

Most shelves attach to posts with built-in or snap-on wedges that may include corner connectors. These tend to be easy to assemble and come together without the use of tools. In terms of setup, the more complicated the shelving system is to construct, the more operators will pay to have it installed. With some systems, an experienced installer may be necessary to ensure proper and safe installation.

Multiple shelving types and configurations can work together in a kitchen. First consider the application when specifying the shelf's size, material and accessories.

When it comes to length, shelving systems are available in 6-inch increments and range from 18 to 72 inches. Shelf widths typically measure between 14 and 36 inches, with composite shelving offered up to 78 inches wide. Stationary unit heights can be anywhere from 24 to 84 inches high.

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.

The environment where the shelving will reside also needs to be properly assessed. Will it be subject to moisture, for example, in a splash area or near a fryer that creates airborne grease? Different materials hold up better in certain climates than others. Chrome wire shelving should be avoided in damp environments, as it will rust over time. The exception is epoxy-coated types, which are rust proof. Also, a newer satin aluminum wire shelf material, originating in Europe, is designed to withstand moisture.

Polypropylene or composite materials have corrosion-resistant surfaces and are best suited for humid or wet storage applications. This type also is recommended for walk-in refrigerator and freezer use. The advantages of this material are that it is lightweight, simple to assemble and easy to clean.

Stainless steel shelving is less common in commercial foodservice applications, but can work in specialty areas, such as near cooking equipment to temporarily store hot pots and pans that are taken off the line.

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.

When specifying shelving, the types of items being stored need to be assessed. Acidic or corrosive food products that can interact negatively with some shelf materials will need a different unit than one storing cans, boxed items and dry goods, for example. Operators who experiment with various recipes or deal with assorted container sizes should consider shelving that is easily reconfigured. Smaller items, such as spices, are best suited on solid, rather than vented, shelves so as not to fall through the cracks. Vented shelf plates work best for items requiring more air circulation, such as refrigerated food and some types of produce.

Durability represents another consideration when specifying shelving. Operators should consider how heavily staff will use the units and, even more important, how much weight the shelving will need to accommodate. This is not only important in terms of storage space, but also from a safety perspective. Overloading these units increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt, due to a shelf toppling over or collapsing.

Operations with uneven kitchen floors may require shelving with adjustable feet. This is an important aspect of installation that operators should verify before placing food or products on any shelving unit.

One of the most common errors in specifying shelving is not carefully considering the operation's layout and where items will be placed. As a result, after shelving is assembled, the items designated for an area won't fit. So as not to waste space, size and stacking options should be determined. Operators also should keep in mind that shelving can be used either against a wall or as a divider in the kitchen, which helps maximize placement options.

Shelves that provide post-sharing options, which can connect two units, can help save money and maximize space in a walk-in. Some manufacturers offer S-shaped hooks that link two shelving units together.

With back-of-house areas shrinking, different shelving configurations can accommodate smaller footprints. High-density or active aisle type systems allow for more shelving to be placed in limited spaces due to more flexible configurations. High-density units introduce an aspect of mobility that allows multiple mobile shelving to slide left or right on tracks. This creates aisles, while maximizing the available space. Instead of using feet, these tracks are bolted to the floor, stabilizing the storage system. There are some systems that are held to the floor just by the force of gravity. Top tracks on some units free up floor space while providing ease of cleaning in the area.

Floor systems can help increase storage capacity up to 40 percent by building up in height rather than out in width. These are commonly used in walk-in applications, where space is at a premium.

Operators should determine if the storage area will need to be reconfigured at some point and how often this will occur. Adjustable shelves may be warranted as menus change, food or products change, or different box sizes need to be accommodated. Units that are easily modified are more flexible for the future. Shelves that can be converted from stationary to mobile units offer even more versatility for changing operations and fluctuating menus. Operators that need to add space can purchase units that can be added onto, which increases storage capacities.

If staff will need to move stored items or if the operation requires mobile storage, specify shelves with casters. These units can transport food or kitchen items and also be used for pickup and delivery functions in larger operations.

Another common mistake operators make is purchasing a stationary shelf and 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.

Every day 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 staff can easily clean in the dishwasher or wash by hand. Some newer shelving units include panels that staff can lift off and wash 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.

Other shelving options include tray racks, security cages, divider bars for food pans and drying racks. The addition of shelf ledges will help prevent objects from falling off the back, front or side of a unit. Consider bumpers for mobile units to protect the shelving as well as walls.

With Shelving, Size Does Matter

One key consideration in properly specifying shelving is determining the correct size needed for each application.

Operators should first consider the total weight and size of items being stored to determine the span between posts and shelves, which will help maximize space. Shelf suppliers will sometimes draw out a schematic that can assist with this task, ensuring that operators make the most of the space that's available.

In terms of size, one key point is that 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 are more than these recommended capacities. Shelves can even break when overloaded. Brackets are available to increase the weight-bearing capacity of bottom shelves up to 1,000 pounds.

Employees forced to bend to the floor or reach overhead to pick up big, weighty items are more apt to get injured than if they lift from the center of the body while using bent knees for extra support. Design the shelf space for heavy or large items to fit between the chest and knees to follow proper ergonomic standards.

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