Food Retail: Reliable, Easy and Sustainable Refrigeration
Refrigeration will never be the same. Essential food retail services such as grocers, convenience stores, liquor stores, pharmacies, pet food, and micro markets have had to overhaul their entire operation and approach to customer service to meet the pressing demands related to the COVID-19 shock. They’ve done a pretty good job considering the current surge to minimize contagion. However, once things settle a bit, these businesses will have to rethink their long-term strategy to doing business post crisis, while maintaining strong commitments to the health and safety of their workers and customers. The latest NCSA Retailer Member survey had a total of 105 member companies participate, representing 1,828 stores, indicates that health and safety will remain of top concern for consumers and employees once stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted. This means properly restructuring floor plans to accommodate individual space, reducing store traffic congestion, elevated cleaning standards, sustainable operations and reliable and hassle-free equipment that lowers total cost of ownership, specifically commercial refrigeration equipment.
Is your commercial refrigeration up to the task?
How do you know if your commercial refrigeration is up to the task of serving your needs now and post COVID-19 in the “new normal”? Well, the first thing to look for are signs of trouble. When refrigeration units have been properly installed and maintained, they will usually run trouble-free for many years but there are obvious warning signs to let you know that something is amiss. Units that run loudly, can’t maintain safe food storage temperatures, or compressors that cycle too frequently, are all signs of pending issues that should be addressed as quickly as possible to avoid bigger problems, including health safety issues and spoiled product.
As the “new normal” starts to set in, here’s what food retailers need to consider in terms of reliability, sustainability and hassle-free refrigeration equipment:
Keep it cool during heated times
If you think it’s cool, but it’s really room temperature, then your refrigeration unit can pose serious health risks. Temperature variations are a serious threat to food safety, potentially contributing to bacteria growth, pathogens and cross-contamination. In an environment where cooler and freezer glass doors are being opened and closed frequently, maintaining optimal temperatures within the unit is crucial. For example, chilled foods like sandwiches and salads should be kept within the 37°F to 41°F range. Short spikes, not exceeding 30 minutes, above 41°F are acceptable. If you do not have a temperature malfunctioning safeguard such as Minus Forty’s NAMA approved Smartlock food health monitor, you should aim to monitor temperatures multiple times per day to make sure they are within the healthy range. Since you will need to sanitize the handles on merchandiser doors often, you can do both cleaning and temperature monitoring tasks at once.
Take a deep breath, there’s light at the end of the tunnel
Refrigeration condensers need adequate airflow, without optimal airflow, your condenser may not have the capability to adequately cool the refrigerant, which can result in merchandising cooler and freezer overheating, spoiled product, higher electrical costs and may even nullify your warranty. Keeping each of your refrigeration units away from the surrounding walls as per the installation instructions in the manual, each with their own dedicated electrical outlet and away from other equipment that radiates heat or produces a lot of airborne oil and grime, plus doing regular inspections to check for blockages, are all prudent ways to keep your cooling units operating under optimal conditions. Be sure to distribute the product evenly inside the unit, as overloading blocks interior airflow, which can lead to spoiled food and irreparable equipment damage. Refrigeration cabinets are also better able to maintain a stable temperature if they’re stocked with products (but not overstocked) versus depleted, since the thermal mass of the refrigerated or frozen products helps to maintain the interior temperature.
Practice the art of cleaning and maintenance
For reliable and clean refrigeration merchandisers, you need to regularly clean and inspect your units. Develop a schedule for cleaning the inside and outside of merchandiser units, to reduce wear and tear and at the same time conduct inspections of critical components like the condenser, the compressor and the evaporator fans. Be sure to use separate cleaning materials for the outside and inside of units, to prevent any transfer of bacteria that could contaminate the food. And keep cleaning equipment for refrigeration units separate from those used for floors or other equipment in the store.
Most units sold today are self-defrosting, but if you have manual defrost units schedule regularly defrosts to prevent serious damage to compressors. In all matters, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, or better yet, buy units that have automatic defrosting functionality.
New condenser designs require much less maintenance compared to the condenser coils of yesteryear that would trap dirt and grease and become clogged and cause break downs. The spiral condenser that Minus Forty has designed has much more negative space and less surface area for contaminants to settle on. A visual inspection every few months and a semi-annual cleaning is enough to ensure it’s operating at peak efficiency.
When cleaning the glass and doors conduct a visual inspection of the gaskets all the way around the door to make sure there are no gaps or tears. Changing a gasket is relatively easy and costs very little when compared to the energy costs you’ll have to incur if the unit must work overtime.
Make sustainability and energy savings a priority
In addition to the environmentally friendly refrigerant and insulation that we use in all our product, they also have a long list of energy saving features like the best door sealing in the industry, the most energy efficient glass available and a unique low maintenance condenser style that helps maintain operating efficiency. We were also one of the first commercial refrigeration manufacturers to introduce energy saving LED lighting, which is up to 85% more efficient than other lighting bulbs. If you are operating older freezer or refrigerator units, the incentive to replace them is all the greater when you consider the tremendous energy cost savings. R290 is the new, approved refrigerant which emits far less greenhouse gas emissions with a lower GWP (global warming potential) allowing for more efficient operation. Today’s R290-powered units use less than half the energy of the previous generation. In addition, some jurisdictions offer energy efficiency incentives, so replacing a freezer or cooler might qualify for a grant or subsidy from their local energy provider.
Operating in the “new pandemic normal” means re-evaluating not only your store policies and procedures, but also your store layout and your equipment. This means your glass door coolers and freezers need to stand up to the task and deliver a reliable, easy and sustainable experience.