Double glass door refrigerator merchandiser

Zen and the art of commercial refrigeration maintenance

When it comes to hard-working commercial refrigerators and freezers, is trouble-free operation, otherwise known as nirvana, even possible? The answer is embedded in the title of Robert Pirsig’s 1960s bestseller, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Reaching a Zen state only happens when the metaphorical wheels are all turning effortlessly, and for that to happen, there must be regular maintenance.

Scheduled maintenance is important to keep motorcycles and cars running efficiently, but it’s arguably even more important for refrigeration equipment. In the food retail industry, commercial refrigeration maintenance of units, or the lack of it, has a direct effect on food safety. Lack of maintenance impacts a machine’s energy efficiency, making the equipment work harder, resulting in higher energy costs and causing machinery to break down sooner from overuse.

Not every maintenance job requires a service call; giving trusted staff minor scheduled maintenance jobs is a good way to ensure they are invested in equipment and the bigger picture. In-house maintenance performed on a regular basis not only helps extend the life of equipment, it is often mandatory for keeping warranty coverage intact.

A good place to start in establishing a maintenance program is the manufacturer’s recommendations that came with the equipment. Frequent visual inspections can catch little problems that can balloon into bigger ones in time. A visual check of fans, exhaust screens for debris can spot buildup which can accumulate over time and cause breakdowns.  Door handles, filters, and door gaskets are a few examples of items that might require replacing which can be done with little expertise by staff.

It’s helpful to train all employees in basic maintenance so they have a healthy respect for the valuable piece of equipment they are handling.

To properly maintain a glass door freezer or refrigerator merchandiser system, all the major components should be included in the maintenance schedule. These include the evaporator(s), compressor unit, and condenser. Here’s a quick checklist to follow:

  1. Make sure installation of refrigeration units was done correctly, and units aren’t too close to heat-emitting machinery or located too close to walls preventing air flow and air intake.
  2. Keep interiors and exteriors spotless with regular cleanings. Make sure to mop underneath units to keep area clear of bacteria or other contaminants that could clog condenser coils.
  3. Defrosting units is time-consuming and costly. Look for units that have auto-defrost functionality to avoid lengthy downtimes and additional labour costs.
  4. Many refrigerators and freezers have condensers which need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Instead, look for units with low maintenance condensers which only require annual visual inspections to ensure they are clean of any dirt or dust. This will depend on how clean the environment is, but it’s a feature that can save time and labour and contributes to lower operating costs.
  5. Inside the units, make sure products aren’t packed too tightly, restricting airflow around them. 
  6. The rubber gaskets that create the seal between the door and the cabinet will become worn and/or damaged with extended use. Regularly run your fingers along the gasket when the door is open to check for bumps, indentations, or other issues. Do the same when the door is closed and take note of any cold air escaping. Check hinges and handles to ensure the doors close properly.
  7. Consider purchasing units that have digital thermostats that will monitor internal temperature and issue alerts if doors are left open. Having fully integrated smart monitors, such as Minus Forty’s Smart Lock, that detect when a high temperature threshold has been reached. It’s essential to operating safely and maintaining product integrity.

If you run a business that depends on refrigeration, regular inspections and maintenance protocols are sure-fire ways to protect your assets and extend their working life.

 If that’s also a way to get some zen-like peace of mind, then so be it.  

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