A Guide to Walk-In Coolers
One does not simply “walk” into a walk-in cooler…at least not at first. Upon receiving and installing the new addition to your restaurant or business you are more likely to pass out from mental fatigue. But do not let this discourage you from buying one. Walk-in refrigeration units are convenient and often necessary for commercial kitchens. And though the process of getting one can be overwhelming it is important to have all of your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed when ordering a walk-in unit because even the tiniest detail can affect the outcome. The key is to work with your seller and be sure that they have all of the information they need to give you what you need.
First the size and location of your unit need to be determined. Manufacturers will provide scaled drawings of all of their models to help ensure that the room will fit where you plan to put it. Once the size of the model has been determined then you will need to figure out the size refrigeration unit you need. When deciding this think about how often employees will be walking in and out of the cooler and how long the door could potentially be left open. If the answer to this is generally “allot” then it might be best to oversize the refrigerant. You can also purchase a door closer which will ensure the units door is not left open to loose cold air.
Next you will need to consider some simple math. All manufacturers will boast of how their walk-in units have the best insulation but the main thing you need to focus on is the R-factor. In your equation the R stands for thermal resistance, meaning the higher your R value is the better the insulation is at resisting heat. So a unit that is R-32 insulated is better at keeping things cool than an R-29 insulated unit.
Now, if your head isn’t spinning already then it will be after the next question. Does your walk-in cooler or freezer need to have a floor? And no, you cannot sit your walk-in unit on the grass. If you have a concrete pad that is approved by your local health regulations then you can opt for a floorless unit. However, if the concrete is too thin you run the risk of freezing the ground beneath it, causing the moisture buildup to freeze which can eventually push your box upward. It is recommended that your concrete pad be increased by 4-5” thick or add a floor on top of the concrete before installing the unit. Walk-ins with floors are usually constructed of 18 or 16 gauge stainless steel.
Will the walk-in unit be installed outside or inside? Walk-in coolers and walk-in freezers are comprised of different sections of panels that are locked together. When it rains water can leak through these seams if the unit is outside. Outdoor walk-in units have a rain cap for this purpose, which is a rubber cover on the roof of the unit.
Last but not least is your refrigeration unit’s installation. You can choose to have remote refrigeration in which the evaporator sits inside the unit while the condensor is installed on the roof or outside of the box. The other option is drop-in, which will have a complete refrigeration unit installed within the walk-in box. Keep in mind that the condenser will produce hot air which can blow into confined work areas, especially if the unit is installed within the building. This hot air can not only make it uncomfortable for workers but can also decrease the efficiency of your refrigeration unit and raise your energy costs.
Proper Temperatures for Commercial Refrigeration
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.