With the heat of summer on the horizon, now is a great time for operators to make sure their refrigeration and HVAC equipment is working as it should. In short, it’s tuneup time.

While operators can handle basic cleaning and even some low-level maintenance for these systems (such as replacing worn out door gaskets), a true tuneup is best performed by a service agency.

When scheduling a tuneup with one of these firms, though, it’s important for foodservice operators to know what they’re getting. That’s because exactly what a tuneup covers can be very different depending on the service agency, according to Malik Salaam, refrigeration/HVAC service manager for the Beltsville/Wharton, Md., branch of Electric Motor Repair (EMR).

In some cases, a tuneup may be nothing more than a visual inspection. “At this point what we’re doing is making an observation to see if the filter or coils are dirty, the blower motor is dirty, things of that nature. From that visual inspection, we would go do a write-up ... with a fee attached for making those corrective actions.”

In other cases, a tuneup could include the field technician starting up the refrigeration and HVAC equipment and attaching gauges to measure system performance and status. That service is typically more expensive than just a visual inspection, but it can catch problems that can’t be seen or are only just emerging.

In both cases, though, a tuneup can save operators the hassle of a breakdown, along with plenty of money. Often, these savings can run into the hundreds of dollars or more, Salaam says.

“If I’m doing an inspection and I see that the motor mounts are worn out, I can replace them. What I'm doing is replacing $10 or $20 mounts and thereby I can save an $800 motor.” On top of these sorts of savings, properly maintained equipment will operate more efficiently, Salaam says. This will result in lower electricity bills.

Beyond savings, though, a refrigerator that’s not at peak performance will cause operational problems almost immediately. These can quickly lead to either food waste or possibly even diners contracting foodborne illnesses.

“Refrigeration is more of an exact science,” Salaam says. “Once you’re two degrees above the safe temperature range for a couple of hours, you’re going to start having food spoilage.”

A poorly maintained AC unit can also present health hazards, says Salam. Dirty filters and motors can end up spreading germs throughout the entire restaurant. Operators, in effect, could make themselves, their employees and their customers sick without even knowing it.

And of course, there’s the basic comfort provided by air conditioning. A unit that isn’t working effectively simply won’t keep an operation at a pleasant temperature. This will almost certainly lower satisfaction among employees and drive away customers who want to dine somewhere more comfortable.

“If we're in 80 or 90 degree weather, a problem will show up pretty quickly on a piece of refrigeration or air-conditioning equipment,” says Salaam. “But if you have a system that is properly maintained, it can be 100 degrees outside and that equipment will perform to manufacturer's specifications.”