Product Knowledge Guide: Shelving

The basic design of commercial shelving used in the foodservice industry has essentially remained unchanged since the mid 1960s. This consists of round posts and a wire-based system.

iStock 000023538831XXLargeIn 1989, the introduction of polymer shelving provided operators with an alternative. The popularity of this shelving has grown because of its durability, cleanability and the fact that it doesn’t rust like metal.

Post and shelf kits provide added flexibility for those seeking custom components to help maximize the available storage area.

Due to a growing array of options in this category, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to specifying shelving. Rather than filling up a storage area with shelves, operators now find that careful planning prior to specifying is necessary to make the most of designated storage space.

Storage Solutions

Shelving is categorized as medium-duty equipment that is used to store food items, supplies and miscellaneous items until needed for time of service. These units are also referred to as storage racks, racking systems or storage units.

Both metal and polymer shelves, along with removable shelving mats, offer optimum food safety by facilitating easier cleaning. Although more expensive, polymer units won’t rust like metal systems. Epoxy-coated wire shelving is a more affordable alternative. Most shelving systems are designed for use in any kitchen environment, including dry storage areas, dish rooms, walk-in coolers or freezers and in mobile carts.

Appropriate shelving can improve productivity by keeping kitchen staff from having to meander through several storage areas looking for items.

Foodservice operators should consider a number of factors when purchasing a shelving unit.

Start by determining how the operation will use the shelving system and the load capacity that it will need to accommodate. Shelving loads typically average between 300 and 500 pounds. For heavily loaded units, carefully evaluate the system’s structural integrity.

Because operators have to fit as much product as possible onto shelves in order to keep food items off of the floor, shelf overloading becomes a common occurrence. Adding too much weight not only increases the potential of the unit collapsing, but also makes it difficult to comply with FIFO (First In, First Out) recommendations. The more product on the shelves, the more difficult it is for staff to locate and properly rotate food product.

Although shelving with casters has specific rating requirements, operators also need to be aware of the unit’s structural integrity and limitations to avoid a collapse when moving.

One of the major recurring issues in foodservice operations is space limitations in walk-in coolers. Storage areas, especially in these units, are limited in size. This is where shelving can help optimize space. Be aware of all the various shelving types and components available as part of a complete system to help maximize space for the operation.

Both high-density and floor track storage systems provide more storage in less space so operators can merge all stored items, including small equipment, china, linen and banquet supplies into one area.

Shelf and corner connectors eliminate the need for a post and allow operators to use every inch of space that’s available. These components also remove dead space or hard-to-reach areas.

The ability to connect a shelving unit to another using a shared post also provides enhanced stability for heavier loads.

Shelving Advancements

There have been a number of new items that have been introduced to complement storage systems.

Drying rack systems are designed to accommodate trays, cutting boards and baking sheet pans. These supplies are typically stacked wet on shelves, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Drying rack systems allow operators to store these items upright to prevent excess moisture and bacteria from growing by allowing sufficient air circulation.

Other new developments for shelving include divider bars to customize storage set-up, wine storage racks and #10 can dispensers. Tray slide racks also can be incorporated in place of extra baking sheet rolling racks, which can take up a lot of space.

Q&A with Josh Taylor, service director, American Kitchen Machinery and Repair, Philadelphia, Pa.

FE&S: How should shelving units be cared for?

JT: Wiping each shelf down as necessary is basically all that’s needed. Broken corner clipper mounts need to be replaced as soon as possible or the shelving unit’s stability may be compromised. Casters should be greased as needed, especially if the system is used in a harsh environment, like within a walk-in.

FE&S: Are there food safety considerations operators should be aware of with shelving units?

JT: If a shelf is wrecked or rusted, it can fall apart or collapse. Also, for the many shelving units that have grates, it’s a health violation to put clean pots or pans or anything exposed to food on the bottom shelf, since this is too close to the floor. As an alternative, custom liners can be placed on the bottom shelf to protect items from the floor’s dirt and debris. These liners can crack and break so will eventually need replacement, typically annually.

FE&S: Are there routine maintenance requirements for shelving units?

JT: We don’t have any shelving on a maintenance program, other than patient food trucks. This means it’s up to the operator to keep the units clean and intact.

FE&S: What are the signs a shelving unit needs replacing?

JT: Total replacement is not typical, unless it’s for cosmetic reasons, like excessive rusting. The more customized the shelving, the more likely it will be repaired rather than replaced due to the higher price point.

FE&S: What are common problems that occur with commercial shelving units?

JT: Although shelves don’t stop working, use could be compromised. Much of the time, this has to do with the broken wheels on units that aren’t stationary.

Shelving Purchasing Considerations

With the increased cost of fuel, a number of food distributors that delivered many times a week for one price in the past are now charging extra for more trips. As a result, it has become more important for operators to assess refrigerator, freezer and dry storage space and utilize tools to maximize storage capability. This will help operations not only absorb larger than normal orders, but also operate more cost effectively and save labor.

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a shelving system to ensure that design and construction can accommodate a foodservice operation’s needs. Orlando Espinosa III, principal at Orlando Espinosa + Associates, based in Glen Mills, Pa., provides advice from a consultant’s point of view.

  • Operators should keep in mind the many options when choosing shelving sizes and heights. This provides added flexibility to maximize storage space in walk-ins and dry storage areas.
  • The sizes of boxes and containers that will be stored on shelves should be assessed. Operators need to keep in mind that storage space will be lost if boxes are turned sideways.
  • Operators can figure out how to maximize the available storage space by looking at the number of shelves per rack unit.
  • Shelving should be easily adjustable for changing needs and not have to be taken apart in the field. Operators should keep in mind there may be boxes that don’t need as much clearance, so adjustable shelves can be used to take full advantage of the space.
  • Operators can choose from a variety of finishes and incorporate polymer shelf mats with wire shelving. These can be removed and run through the dishwasher or rinsed in a pot sink.
  • Operators should take full advantage of the many accessories available that will enhance storage capacities and options. When choosing what to incorporate, operators need to look at the labor savings. If storage space is not maximized and organized, the long-term labor costs can be greater than the one-time expense of accessorizing shelving to meet the operation’s needs.
  • We recommend putting all shelving on casters with locking breaks for easier cleaning underneath. Operators may not want the added expense, but the result is shelves don’t get moved for proper cleaning.
  • File systems have been in use with shelving systems for many years. These are positioned on tracks to maximize storage capabilities.
  • Dunnage racks, or low, sturdy metal or plastic shelving, are typically used for heavier items.
  • Overhead or floor track systems are ideal for operations with limited storage space.
  • Multi dividers provide flexibility in dry storage areas and allow operators to adjust shelving units to meet their needs.
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