F&B MRO Magazine

Maintenance and repairs of commercial refrigeration units

As seen in Food & Beverage MRO Magazine

Commercial refrigeration units: All along the cold chain – from the processing plant to the retail display cabinets where some food manufacturers have to maintain their own branded coolers or freezers – frozen and refrigerated foods need to be preserved and monitored constantly, as does the refrigeration units they are kept in, to ensure food protocols and safe storage temperatures are maintained. This is easier than ever, given the innovations in the latest generation of commercial freezers and refrigerators. Environmentally-friendly refrigerants, smart engineering features and design choices all combine to make maintenance and repairs as simple and straightforward as possible. For optimal operation, it’s important to look at everything from how the units are installed, to how to properly load units to ensure they operate efficiently and experience fewer breakdowns.

Regular maintenance and repairs of commercial refrigeration units

It goes without saying that the smooth operation of food and beverage merchandisers and display units depends on a regular maintenance schedule.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions in this and all other technical considerations. Beyond regular cleaning and maintenance, here are some other issues that are often overlooked, to keep units in top condition for a longer working life.

Keeping the cold chain intact

To keep food products fresh, it’s vital to keep the cold chain intact from factory to retail shop, and an even temperature across all the product stored. This can affect the quality and shelf life of the product, depending on how long it is stored. If your business requires lengthy storage times for frozen products, ensure freezers have forced air functionality.

Correct installation

Refrigeration units need to have adequate airspace to allow for airflow, since hot air needs to move out of that critical area. Most units have a minimum tolerance for clearance at the back, so you are not starving the unit of air flow. Often a manufacturer will specify a six-inch gap behind the unit, but this is often ignored, and units are pushed right up against the wall to save space.

Check ambient temperature specifications

Many people don’t realize that different manufacturers specify different ambient temperatures in which their units can operate. For instance, some freezers and coolers are designed to work in 30°C ambient temperatures. Most commercial units are designed for 24°C temperatures, while units intended for outdoor use can operate in temperatures as high as 38°C without compromising the interior temperature. Look at what the manufacturer has specified to ensure the right unit is in the right place in your operation.

Regular condenser inspections

In addition to a thorough cleaning of the interior, a regular check of the condensers is probably the most critical maintenance task in a commercial freezer.  If the condenser is not kept clean, it cannot dissipate heat energy that is necessary for the refrigeration system to function. Prolonged operation in this state will cause the compressor to overheat and fail.  In especially dirty environments where airborne debris can be a problem, it’s wise to exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations and inspect the condenser more often. Many companies contract a third party to regularly inspect and clean them for this reason.

Some condensers are advertised as self-cleaning. These types of condensers have a different, more innovative design that looks less like a radiator and more like a giant spiral with very big gaps. This design makes it very difficult for anything to get caught and create a blockage. It’s still wise to inspect them annually, especially if they are operating in challenging environments.

Another time-saving feature to look for is automatic defrost functionality. Defrosting units manually is time-consuming and costly, so look for units that have auto-defrost functionality to avoid lengthy downtimes and additional labour costs.

Finally, don’t overlook the gaskets that run along the edge of the inner door. Depending on how frequently the unit is loaded and reloaded, these rubber seals can tear, leading to air leaks and inefficient operation. They’re a very easy and affordable fix.

Electronic displays and smart locks

Gone are the days when freezers and coolers had dials with imprecise temperature controls. Today’s modern units have electronic digital display controllers, that will indicate an exact temperature and maintain a much tighter temperature range within your unit. In addition, a Smartlock will issue an alarm and automatically lock the door of a unit whose internal temperature rises above a pre-set safe limit.

Learn how to correctly load a unit

If you’re experiencing fluctuating temperatures, it might be because of the load of your unit. Cabinets are better able to maintain a stable temperature when they’re full.  This is because the frozen products inside have a thermal mass that helps maintain the interior temperature, even when warm air is introduced through an open door. If you picture an empty freezer and another unit beside it full of ice cream, open the door on the empty freezer and the temperature will change much faster than the full one for this reason.  To mitigate this, try to keep all units evenly filled with product as this will help to mediate interior temperatures.

 Typically, the top part of a commercial unit is where you will find the evaporator which operates with fans that can be blocked when a unit is overloaded with product. This can be just as bad for the unit as having a blocked condenser, yet many people aren’t aware of this issue, and will load a unit without thinking about air circulation, which is vital to its operation.  Many units have “Load Limit” stickers. These indicate the maximum area of the unit that can be loaded with product. The above should be keep free of product to allow for air circulation.

Looking forward, it is likely that with connectivity and the associated costs thereof becoming more and more competitive. You will start to see manufacturers offering units that are always online. Some potential benefits of this will be their ability to send you alerts when the unit is down, and possibly to send preventative alerts indicating that the condenser needs to be cleaned, or to check that the unit is not overfilled.

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