Do you enjoy watching golf? If so, organizing your commercial refrigerator and freezer might be the most exciting thing you’ll do this year. But for the average restaurant owner, sifting through your reach-in probably isn’t too high on your to-do list. After all, you have menus to create, supplies to order, and employees to schedule. Refrigeration equipment should work well on its own, right?
However, your refrigerator will purr like a kitten when the food inside is well organized. On the other side, a poorly-arranged refrigerator may be working harder than it should. This causes the compressor to wear out too quickly while running up your utility bill in the process. And just like that, no more purring.
All commercial refrigerators and freezers require a systematic and organized approach to food storage organization. Depending on the size and setup, you might need to install additional interior shelves, panrack slides, or even make use of dunnage racks.
With a few quick fixes in terms of organization, you can prevent hot spots, improve cleanliness, and maintain food safety in all your refrigeration equipment.
Space Food Items Appropriately
Abide by the three inch rule when storing food in a commercial refrigerator. Air should circulate as thoroughly as a middle school rumor, and three inches provides plenty of room for cold air to move around. When storing items in bulk, be sure there is adequate space between food boxes so cold air can get around and keep them out of the danger zone. Better circulation means better cooling results, and fewer “hot spots” inside. The same concept goes for prepped food items like pans of pre-made appetizers, containers of soup and frozen desserts.
Keep Items Off the Floor
If there were a 10 Commandments of Commercial Refrigerator Storage, “Store items at least six inches from the floor” would be right up there with “Make sure it’s plugged in.” Keeping items off the ground improves sanitation by preventing pest infestation and contact with dirty floors. Most commercial reach-ins have built-in shelves, but you may need to set up your own stationary shelving units or dunnage racks in a walk-in cooler.
Store Meat Items on the Lowest Shelves
The trickle-down effect is a good thing in economics, but not so much when it comes to storing meat items. As meats thaw or marinate, faulty food storage containers or an accidental spill can contaminate other food product below the meat. As a food safety precaution, store meat on the lowest shelves of your commercial refrigerator. That way, any spills will simply fall through to the floor, and thanks to those six inches, you can easily mop it up.
Store Fresh Produce Away from the Fans
No, I’m not talking about someone who has a strong interest or admiration for vegetables. Internal refrigerator fans can actually damage food items stored near it, like fresh greens or delicate fruits like berries. Foods susceptible to damage should be stored as far from the fan vents as possible. In the freezer, storing food too close to the fan can result in freezer burn.
Follow the Rule of FIFO
Pay attention to food product shelf-life and “use-by” dates. Our advice? Put a date sticker on every product before putting it into the refrigerator, or simply mark it with a pen. Place the newest items at the back of every shelf and slice older items forward. Any open items should be used first, as long as they are still fresh. Following this rule, known as first-in, first-out (FIFO), ensures proper product rotation for the freshest and safest inventory possible.
Label the Shelves
I’m not saying your employees are lacking intelligence, but I am saying that sometimes mistakes happen during the dinner rush. Labeling the refrigerator shelves is a good way to ensure that employees can identify every product. This can help with storage and organization too, especially when stocking new inventory. Use shelf-labeling accessories to make this job easier.
Keeping your commercial refrigeration equipment well-organized helps your staff find what they need, maintains food safety, and improves your equipment’s longevity. Take the time to improve organization and enjoy longer life from your equipment and better food quality for your customers.
Illustrations by the talented Roman Martinez for FSW