Due to a growing array of shelving options, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach with these units. In fact, some operators find careful planning prior to specifying solutions is necessary to make the most of designated storage space.

istock 629306716There are a variety of shelving unit types for storing wares, and what works best will depend on the space available. This includes stand-alone stationary, multiple units mounted on track systems and wall-mounted or mobile types, such as those configured as utility carts. When situated under workstations or in kitchen nooks, shelving can provide additional storage for a specific task.

Shelving can store almost any item in both dry and wet areas of a foodservice operation. NSF-listed epoxy-coated wire shelves and units made of composite materials are recommended for use in walk-in coolers and freezers, while some NSF shelving should only be used in dry environments.

Shelving Specifying Factors

Choosing the appropriate storage can play a role in improving staff productivity by making it easier for them to find what they need to execute the tasks at hand. First consider the application when determining the system’s size, material and accessories. Then take into account the items the storage system must accommodate. Operators who rotate recipes or work with assorted container sizes should consider shelving that staff can easily reconfigure. Shelf plates that are vented work best for items requiring more air circulation.

Space is a primary consideration when choosing shelving units for storage. For those with smaller footprints, high density or active aisle type systems allow multiple shelving to slide left or right on tracks, providing more flexible configurations. These tracks bolt to the floor, stabilizing the storage system, or are held down using the force of gravity with the weight placed on the shelving units.

Shelving size depends on the space available. Lengths for these systems come in 6-inch increments and range from 18 to 72 inches, with widths typically between 14 and 36 inches. Composite shelving can be up to 78-inches wide, while stationary unit heights can be anywhere from 24 to 84 inches.

Employees forced to bend to the floor or reach overhead to pick up big, weighty items are more apt to get injured than if lifting from the center of the body while using bent knees for extra support. For this reason, make sure shelf space between the chest and knees follow proper ergonomic standards.

Catering operators need to determine the weight-bearing capacity per shelf, which reduces as these units get larger. For example, shelves up to 48 inches long can sustain up to 800 pounds per shelf, while units that are between 54 and 72 inches can only handle up to 600 pounds per shelf. Be aware longer units may bend or bow if weights exceed recommended capacities and run the risk of breaking when overloaded. If needed, brackets are available to increase the weight-bearing capacity of the bottom shelf up to 1,000 pounds.

In terms of location, shelving can be used either against the wall or as a divider in the kitchen, which helps maximize placement options. Shelves with post sharing capabilities can be used to connect two units to prevent any gaps or unused space in between shelving. High density or active aisle type systems allow for more shelving to be placed in limited spaces due to more flexible configurations. Floor systems also are available that can help increase storage capacity by building up in height.

Ease of shelving set up also is a factor to consider. The more complicated the shelving system is to construct, the more operators will pay to have it installed and also the more difficult it will be to adjust shelving positions if needed to accommodate different size packaging. Most shelves are attached to posts with built-in or snap-on wedges that may include corner connectors, which are easy to assemble without tools.

Operators can choose from a variety of shelving materials. It’s important to properly assess the environment where the shelving will be placed, because some materials hold up better in certain climates than others. For example, wet environments can cause rusting on chrome wire shelving, so polypropylene or composite materials may be a better choice for these applications. Available materials include wire in finishes that incorporate zinc and chrome-plated epoxy coating with a zinc substrate, polymer and a hybrid of wire and polymer. Systems made of a steel core encapsulated by a thick polypropylene outer layer also are available.

Newer composite material offers operators an extremely strong yet lightweight material. These can hold just as much weight as the counterpart shelving units made from other materials, but offer a memory feature that prevents permanent bending or bowing of the shelving traverses.

For systems used in walk-ins, take into account the shelving’s height and width to ensure the unit will clear the doorway and ceiling.

One common mistake operators make is purchasing a stationary shelf then converting it to a mobile unit by attaching casters. In some cases, altering the system in this manner will void the warranty.

Caterers should consider units with casters and bumpers, which are best suited for transporting items. Removable shelf plates or polymer mats for wire units are easily cleaned in the dishwasher or washed by hand. Color-coded signage can help prevent cross contamination. Some manufacturers provide removable labels that can be easily switched out as menus and ingredients change.

The addition of shelf ledges will help prevent objects from falling off the unit. Divider bars 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.

Drying rack systems can accommodate trays, cutting boards and baking sheet pans. Staff typically stack these supplies wet on shelves, which may create 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.

Where food safety is concerned, using color-coded signage can help prevent cross contamination by separating meat and produce, for example.