Just because you have a refrigerator or freezer doesn’t mean it’s cold enough to store your perishable food products in it. This is especially true for commercial refrigeration products because the food service industry regulations are so strict. The temperature at which foods are stored can affect their appearance, taste, nutrient content and most importantly their safety.
The purpose of a refrigerator is to keep foods at a cooler temperature in order to slow down the growth of bacteria, making them ideal for perishable foods such as produce and cooked meats, while a freezer is intended to completely stop the growth of bacteria. The average temperature operating range for commercial refrigeration units is generally between 36F and 45F. If you store foods at a temperature lower than 36F you run the risk of freezing items that should not be, like milk and dairy products, where as if you store them at a higher temperature than 45F the food could spoil. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that refrigerated products must be kept at 41 Degrees Fahrenheit or lower. But the colder the food is the longer it will last, making 38F an ideal temperature for commercial refrigeration. Freezer temperature ranges are generally much colder.
Some foods are more sensitive to cold temperatures than others, so the type of food you are storing as well as the type of refrigeration unit you are using will also affect the temperature you need to set. For instance, foods that require being stored below 35F will require a forced defrost cycle. Here are some general guidelines for temperature ranges based on the type of refrigeration unit you have:
- Reach-In Refrigerators 35F to 38F
- Walk-In Refrigerators 35F to 38F
- Reach-In Freezers +5F to -10F
- Walk-In Freezers 0F to -10F
- Ice Cream Freezers -10F to -20F
Commercial refrigeration units take time to stabilize their set temperatures and the bigger the unit the longer it takes. When adjusting the temperature wait for a full day and check it again before storing food products.
So how do you maintain the temperature once it stabilizes? Commercial refrigeration temperatures will rise the most when the equipment doors are open. Because equipment thermostats are located near the doors this can sometimes cause a false read. If temperatures are reading above normal try waiting 5 to 10 minutes with the door closed and then check the temperature again. Otherwise you may wind up paying for a service call that you don’t need. Manufacturers like Kool-It and True offer owner maintenance videos on their websites.
Be sure to educate your restaurant staff about the importance of keeping refrigerator and freezer doors and drawers closed. Because of the inaccuracies of the thermostats on equipment doors you might want to consider a secondary thermometer to be placed under or near evaporator coil. If you have concerns about particular temperature sensitive foods you should also have thermometers in place for them or freezer alarms to signal you if there is a danger of thawing.
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