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Avoiding Refrigeration Problems

Last month’s Service Insights focused on how equipment misuse and abuse leads to avoidable service calls on the hot side.

That’s not the only place where avoidable problems arise, of course. Refrigeration of all types undergoes unnecessary wear and tear, costing operators hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs.

Doors on refrigeration units, for example, can experience abuse at an alarming rate, according to Jeff Martin, service manager for the Tampa, Fla., branch of Clark Service Group. Some of this abuse comes as a result of a lack of common sense or care. Martin has seen many cases where line cooks use an undercounter or lowboy refrigerator door as a chair when the kitchen isn’t busy.

“People sit on the edge of it,” Martin says. “Now they’re bending the door or the hinges. They’ll open the door and lean on it. It's an undercounter, it's the right height so they'll just sit on it like it’s a seat.”

Other times, the abuse refrigerators take is not due to negligence, but to how quickly kitchen staff try to accomplish tasks. If they need to retrieve an item from a door or drawer, they should put down their tongs, knives, etc., and open the unit by hand. Instead, says Martin, they’ll often use their utensil to open up the refrigerator. While this may save them a few seconds each time, it can easily damage the gasket.

In this case, operators should show staff the problems caused by not opening the door properly. In addition, says Martin, operators should consider their expectations for kitchen performance. “A lot of places, I believe, are training their employees right, but we want to push everybody fast,” he says. “Speed is not always the best thing. A little extra time goes a long way.”

Walk-ins also take more than their share of unnecessary damage, Martin says. Some of this, again, goes to common sense. While they’re large and sturdy structures, they’re not indestructible. Staff have been known to toss boxes against walls, kick open doors and slam carts into panels. All these can damage the unit. While they may seem like obvious “don’ts,” the best approach includes a training session on how to properly treat walk-ins.

Other problems are less obvious. During periods like prep or stocking deliveries, team members may prop open a walk-in door. If left open for an extended period of time, says Martin, “eventually the coils will start icing up and freezing up. You just made a big service call for yourself because someone decided to leave the door open.”

A more subtle problem comes in the form of how an operation handles food storage in walk-ins. Cover acidic items like onions and pickles while in storage. If not, the acids can make their way to the refrigeration components and eat away at the coils, leading to an early and expensive replacement.

Most of these tips are common sense and/or easy to put into practice. While they may seem simple, they’re still valuable enough to save operators big repair bills.