Category Archives: coolrooms

Refrigerated Storage Tips

The mysterious world of refrigeration.

One thing that is certain through years of experience I can safely say, refrigeration whilst it’s a prescribed mechanical science (you would think it would be the same recipe/method/result all the time) Nothing could be further than the truth!

There is no shortage of work for good refrigeration technicians, systems are Always playing up somewhere, somehow for good reasons or sometimes no reasons, there are so many factors that are involved for the reasons why systems fail, both from the manufactures side and customers side.

Aside from ensuring you have your condensers cleaned at least monthly, in some extreme cases this may need to be fortnightly, and you don’t muck around with the thermostat settings on the unit too much there is little else you can do to help the unit work properly OR, is there?

Tip 1.

In 90% of cases your refrigerated unit or coolroom will NOT be even in temperature.

Tip 2.

Its all about Air Flow, In around the unit and for the exterior of the refrigeration motor.

  1. If you walk into your coolroom with a laser temperature reader (I’m not a fan of these they are too inaccurate in use) but its quick enough and simple enough to prove the point. Take a reading from each corner of the room, top and bottom (8 in total) plus directly under the fans and slightly to the back of them and then directly opposite the fans on the next available shelf.

What were your findings?

Depending upon on the point of the refrigeration cycle and the recent room usage I bet you found quite large variations of temperatures.

Did you find your Hot Spots?

That’s right, hot or warm spots nearly every room has them often on the same side as the fan location can be high or low. You may find for example this area could sit perhaps around the 5-6 degree mark whereas the rest of the room is 2-3degrees..

When you are sorting out your coolroom, this ‘warm spot’ is where you want to store your Fruit and vegetable for example, not your Oysters or chicken! Sounds too simple and ridiculous to be true, well it is, and I have seen it oh so many times, where the lettuce is almost frozen and the raw chicken isn’t even cold!

Now the Coolroom and Refrigeration mechanic reading this will fume and say ‘that doesn’t happen in my rooms’, great if that’s true, but in the real world it happens in 90% of cases. There can be many factors such as incorrectly sized fans, or condensers icing up which will lead to reduced air flow in the room. Or no coolroom curtain strips at the door which could be letting in too much warm air into a section of the room.

typical warm spot in a coolroom

As a Hospitality professional It’s your LEGAL responsibility to get to know your coolroom and its hot spots, it’s not acceptable when your in court explaining why 100 people that had the chicken are all sick because you didn’t know that part of the coolroom wasn’t cold!

We did a recent site survey for a large food importer to set up an www.i-temp.com.au temperature monitoring system. The coolrooms were massive, you could drive forklifts in them! What we found was that we needed to place many sensors in the room to get all the variable temperatures to be able to claim an ‘average temperature’ across the room. These were million dollar facilities and there was very little variance in the room, but there was some.

One of the reasons why the above example had little variance is because the operator had spaced and packed the room correctly.

This part is essential DO NOT OVERLOAD your coolroom and or refrigerator.

Take a walk into your local big supermarket, take a look at the refrigerated deli shelves or meat sections, note how they are loaded. Nice and even, never overloaded or just packed to the rafters in every little space is filled.

Nice neat lines evenly spaced between and from the front, not too much product on top of each other. They are ensuring that there is even airflow around the product the refrigerated air can move and pass through the layers. The difference between stacking and sorting the shelves like this IS the difference between the system being able to hold the foods at correct temperature or not.

Correct loading for commercial refrigeration

IF you were to load all that product higher/deeper and no gaps between I can guarantee it WILL NOT be at correct temperature.

Now your big name supermarket holds/stores/sells MILLIONS of dollars of food in each store, they cannot afford the risk of loosing product due to incorrect storage temperatures, or the risk of food poisoning. Their refrigeration costs are also one of the biggest expenses they have, they cannot afford to have systems working overtime either consuming excess power, in a business with very slim margins it makes a massive difference to their bottom line.

If you have problems with your staff overloading refrigerated cabinets/rooms you could do a lot worse than take them through the supermarket to look and see how they do it.

What about smaller refrigerated cabinets?

The effect can be even worse! Most systems have one fan area usually from the top of the cabinet or just the one side. If the unit is overloaded the far end of the cabinet be it bottom or the far end does not get cold enough, the air just can’t get down that end. Classically I have seen this happen in Ice cream and Gelato shops where they have often a 1 door vertical freezer for all their back up stock. The unit gets packed tight from top to bottom and side to side with tubs of product, packed tight.

Then the customer is complaining that the ice cream in the bottom of the freezer isn’t freezing properly and they are losing product. Its not the freezer it’s the user!

HOW Is the cold air that is blown from the top fan going to get to the bottom if there is no way for it to pass through all the product? Its not going to happen.

Once the freezer stock is reduced and the tubs are evenly spaced out of shelves with gaps between them to allow air to pass the through and circulate through the cabinet the problems is solved, product on the bottom is staying frozen.

Refrigerated Air MUST be able to circulate around the cabinet or room evenly.

Foodservice refrigeration loading

Now that we have seen that overloading is a problem, do you know that ‘underloading’ also can be?! What you say, can’t win, overload/underload.If you have a room or a cabinet that is empty the refrigeration system is just working all the time keeping air cool, sounds fine what the problem? Nothing really its just working its backside of wasting power! If you loaded your cabinet room up, lets say 60/70% capacity your refrigeration system will have to work less and save you hundreds and thousands of dollars in power!

How is that so? Thermal Mass the product (take a Coke fridge for example) once cold will keep its own cold in the mass of the product for a certain time frame.

For example, if you turned the coke fridge off, the cans of coke won’t be warm within say 15 minutes they, might go say from 1.5c to 5c but not warm. The thermal mass will take some time for it to warm up. But if that coke fridge was empty and we turned it off it would be a lot warmer in there than the same time, the air warm ups quickly, there is no MASS. The same happens with food products also, the bigger and heavier the slower they warm up as they have more cold mass. Think an icy cold cut of beef say a large top side or blade roast, its going to take some time for that big piece of meat to warm up.

So keep your cabinets and rooms at least 65% loaded your refrigeration systems wont have to work as hard.

Refrigerated beverage cabinet well stocked

2.

Air flow ‘around the system’, and the conditions of that air. This is the other airflow part, the air ‘around the refrigeration motor’ be it a self contained cabinet or a coolroom.  How well the air can be pulled in and expelled out of the refrigeration.

In its most simplistic form refrigeration works by extraction of air and changing the state of that air into the next stage. The method is to ‘pull air’ into the system and exchange that air into cold air into the cabinet or room. During this process the excess Hotter air that is pulled from the air that has been taken it is expelled out of the system, leaving just cold air to go into our cabinet/room.

How refrigeration works

Now the air that is ‘expelled’ during this process has to go somewhere, and it does. You will feel the hot air blowing back off a refrigeration (or Air Conditioning system) it might be off to the side, front.

The key with this air is we need to it to go away! We don’t want the refrigeration system to be sucking this HOT air back into to the system, we want it to suck cooler fresh air. And this is where so many of the breakdowns and problems occur, its known as ‘recirculating’ where the refrigeration system is breathing back in its own hot air and it then struggles to cope as it can’t pull down all this hot air.

Air flow again, you need to work out a way to get rid of this hot air if its being recirculated.

We see the above example often with vertical ref/frz cabinets where the ceiling height is low and the cabinet has a top mounted motor. There is just nowhere for the excess hot air to go and they start to recirculate their own air.

In the above example you could a) install a simple extract fan (like a bathroom fan) into the ceiling on intermittent timer to extract the hot air. Vents in the ceiling and or rear walls can help, but its pretty hopefully to assume the hot air will find a way out.
Having the room fully Air Conditioned (running 24/7) can help in the above example also.

So as well as allowing sufficient clean air for your refrigeration system to breath in, it has to be able to expel the air also. This is a big one.

Here are some other helpful tips below, and some more refrigeration facts and guides can be found here, https://www.airah.org.au/Content_Files/Special-Technical-Groups/Cool-rooms-SME-owners-and-operators.pdf

  1. Store Meats on the Lowest Shelves

Always store your meat on the lowest shelves of your appliance. Keeping your meat on the low shelves makes clean up easier if you have a spill, but more importantly this practice prevents potentially dangerous cross contamination. If any other food touches any juices or marinade from the meat, you must promptly throw those things away. If you store meat on the higher shelves, they are much more likely to drip down and contaminate the rest of your food, which can ultimately spread harmful bacteria to your customers.

  1. Leave Space Between Items

The cold air in your commercial fridge and freezer needs to be able to circulate. Although the impulse is to pack things in as well as you can to use every bit of the space efficiently, your fridge needs about three to six inches of space between the walls and the food products to get the best refrigeration. The circulation of air in your fridge prevents hot spots and uneven cooling and freezing.

  1. Keep Food Off the Fridge Floor

In order to prevent water or other contaminants from seeping into your food, it is important that you store all food off of the floor, including while in the refrigerator. While this is a health code requirement, not every person in your kitchen may be aware of the specific codes that will get your restaurant in trouble. In the heat of a rush of customers, it’s also easy to forget this rule. Having adequate shelving will prevent this problem. Make sure all your staff understands that this rule prevents food contamination and pest infestation in your commercial fridge. A note on the door is often enough to remind them.

  1. Store Delicate Produce Away From Fans

The fans in a commercial kitchen refrigeration and freezing units are extremely strong in order to encourage circulation, but this air flow can actually damage some of your foods. Berries and fresh greens are vulnerable to damage from these fans. In the freezer, storing food close to the fans increases its potential to get freezer burn. While you may need to fully utilize the space in your freezer, make sure to watch the labels and use the items closest to the fans quickly.

  1. FIFO; or First In, First Out

Product shelf-life and use-by dates are important for maintaining the quality of your foods. Make sure that you utilize the first-in, first-out (commonly abbreviated as FIFO) principle when organizing your storage units. When stocking, place newer items in the back of your fridge and freezer. If date codes are small, write the dates in bigger numbers on the box before you store it, and be sure to place the items so the dates are apparent. Make it easy for employees to see which products need to be used. Always use open items before opening anything new. This is an efficient method that will end up saving you a lot of money.

  1. Label Everything

Label the shelves. This may seem unnecessary, but mistakes can happen, so it’s good to have a reminder. Labeling lets someone else who isn’t as familiar with your system come in and find things easily, which can be helpful when you have new hires trying to figure out the kitchen. Labeling your shelves makes it apparent when something is out of place or completely out of stock.

Make sure every employee knows that anything that goes into the fridge has a label. This label should include both the day you made or received the product and the use-by date. It is important that you know when prepared foods, such as chicken broth or puddings, were created. Have a rule about unlabelled food, so no one forgets to label items. Make sure you have pens and stickers for easy labelling so this rule doesn’t waste unnecessary time in your kitchen.

 Reasons Why Organization Is Important:

  • High quality food is not cheap. Your storage plan maintains the integrity of everything you purchase so that it can be used and doesn’t go to waste.
  • You avoid those dreaded health code violations by following organization guidelines. Improperly stored food is one reason your restaurant might be fined or even shut down.
  • Utilizing your space effectively increases quality of the food.
  • Organization in your commercial kitchen creates a smooth operation. When your staff isn’t wasting time looking around for a specific food in an unorganized refrigerator, they can get back on the line quicker.
  • Disorganization in your fridge and freezer makes these units work harder, which means you’ll need to call for repairs more often when your food isn’t cooling appropriately.
  • There is less need for cleanup when shelves are organized. Food will have a place and things won’t be thrown in wherever it fits.
  • Clean up is easier when shelves are organized.
  • Ordering and restocking is easier when everything has a place. You can quickly see items that you need and won’t be looking for more cases in another place.

Organization Pays Off

Do you need more space in your commercial fridge or freezer? Before ordering more units for more space, make sure that the shelves in your current units are organized. Taking the time to do this may be a chore for your staff, and it certainly will take time away from their regular duties, but it will save you money in the long run. If you still need extra help, know that there are plenty of apps for kitchen organization that you should consider using.

Keep track of food waste and track the reasons you are throwing this food away. If it’s quickly going bad in the fridge or freezer, you should invest in better organization for better utilization of product. Don’t let a poorly organized fridge cost you money that should be going elsewhere in your business.

Customize your kitchen to your own individual needs. There are a number of different refrigeration systems that can be installed to keep your food at ideal temperatures before it is cooked and served. Take advantage of different products that work in your commercial kitchen.

Teach your staff the importance of fridge and freezer organization in your kitchen. This is an important foundation to have in your commercial kitchen, so you need to make it a priority. Make sure everyone knows how vital these rules are to your establishment.

If you have a real problem with employees with bad habits, try to influence staff with a reward for doing their work correctly after a week, a month, eight weeks, and so on so that everyone has more reasons to make it a priority in their own performance. You’ll see improvement quicker and create camaraderie within your business when everyone is working toward the same goals.

With so many variables it’s amazing that we can keep food cold at all! And it’s painfully obvious that ‘writing down’ a couple of temperatures per day on piece of paper hardly qualifies as an accurate record of the consistent temperatures  of a storage system over the longer 24/7/365 cycle.

The only way you can accurately obtain and prove such data is with digital technology, interdependently and accurately  recording data 24/7/365 , go to www.i-temp.com.au to learn more.

i-temp temperature monitoring

USA updating food safety laws & NSF

Back in 2011 the USA’s food safety governing body FDA set about updating and rewriting their food safety legislation and guidelines, it’s taken up until now to for much of it to be finalized and available to read, and there is plenty to read! FDA info here https://www.fda.gov/

The USA take food safety seriously, very seriously and as such really leads Australia in direction and standards.

This you may find unusual for a country that seems all to happy to consume copious  amounts of processed fast food crap! But if you go into those stores you will see such things as ‘drinking straws individually wrapped’ , ‘tooth picks individually wrapped’ and in my observations the average Americans hand washing technique and time taken to so is far better than the average Australian. There is an in built culture (or paranoia!) about germs  and food safety, just not calories and nutrition!

Part of the reason for strictness in food safety also links back to the massive ‘franchise’ food network in the states, it’s really hard to find a food business that is not part of a chain or group, and some of those chains are in the THOUSANDS not just a few stores! So IF an issue of food safety occurs at one store, and word gets out it’s not that store that is the main problem it’s the damage done to the other 1,000 stores in the chain! The issue can taint all of their brand and reputation and bring a large organisation to their knees for something that may have happened as a once off on the other side of the county…a good example would be chiplote..there is heaps of articles about it  this is just one example, https://www.wired.com/2016/01/chipotles-health-crisis-shows-fresh-food-comes-at-a-price/

Bad news sells, the media love to bring businesses down, they have probably fed millions of meals over the years with no hassles at, but that doesn’t sell in media land!

The other issue in the states is shear volume, massive population and massive food producers, some may say to few producers, but when big business runs all the smaller players out of town you end up with super food factories. You might end up with for example one or two factories producing all the burger patties for Mcdonalds for example…IF something goes wrong at that factory with the product because they are supplying to millions of customers each week you are in fact risking millions of people, not just the 100 who ate at store A!

an oldie but a goodie on the subject, America a fast food nation, http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1097.Fast_Food_Nation

So generally as a result the states is pretty strict, as mentioned before even small wares (tong’s spoons etc)  used in the industry all have to be passed and rated NSF. Makes sense  if you think about it, here in Australia a typical small franchise would look to save $1 on a set of tongs…but not consider quality and safety…now if they were cheaply made tongs with silicone/rubber ends that franchise could easily find themselves with a customer at a store with bits of tong rubber in their salad! The chances of such happening in the states would be much lower as they would only use NSF approved tongs, so they would have been tested for quality and durability to reduce the chance of the same happening. more about NSF here http://www.nsf.org/

So back to the FDA changes.

I haven’t read the entire documents just the basics. But the big shift is what they are aiming for is early prevention rather than reaction. And a lot more proactive on spot inspections where it will be compulsory for all operators to have all their food safety plans and documentation accurate and up to date.

The reading suggests using digital data monitoring and logging of food storage temperatures,  and lets be totally honest with ourselves here, WHO does it ACCURATELY , REGULARLY and Honestly? Very few is the answer to that. Secondly whats the point of checking and recording twice a day, its POINTLESS a grade 4 science teacher would fail you if you suggested that checking temperatures for 2 moments of time over 24hrs is sufficient evidence to base a finding on, clearly its not! You may have checked a refrigerator both times of the day and struck it on full defrost cycle, the data from that would suggest you have a serious temperature issue! The real fact is for the other 23.5Hrs of the day your storage may have well in the correct zone.

and old saying ‘ to monitor ones performance, first we must measure the results’ 

if you haven’t already check out http://www.i-temp.com.au/

www.i-temp.com.au

or watch this video

 

Oil’s ain’t Oils!

Well I’m not going to attempt to break down all the different types of frying oils/fats (or mediums being the technical term) with exception of Palm and Cotton Seed, this is more about ‘filtering and different types of fryers.

Palm Oil…do a quick google on the harmful environmental issues of Palm Oil…enough said .http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/environmental_impacts/

Cotton seed can’t be much better seeing we damn half of this country and bugger up all the water ways down stream just so we can grow cotton??Aside from that go and pull out a 10 yr+ old fryer from a fish and chip shop that has been using cotton seed oil…the toxic resin/gum that builds up is horrific, cannot be good for you!

Fryer Types

Its hard to break this down without going into pages and pages…but Fryers are a major part of many commercial kitchens and business, they cost heaps to run, heaps to purchase and can consume insane amounts of oil, the lack of attention clients give to selecting the fryer for their operation is staggering, the wrong choice could cost them thousands per year.

Years ago all fryers were flat bottom, mainly width was the main performance difference, the burner technology (Gas) was primitive to say the least, round baskets in square/rectangle fryers were normal! Yep that makes sense round shape in square base..no wastage of energy or oil there!

The big change happened with ‘V’ base fryers and also more compact in size to suit the neatly fitting baskets, size/shape is easy to see the performance difference there, but what about the V bottom?

Basically it was worked out that many fried products were crumbed or battered and a lot of that ended up coming off the food and floating in the fryer, but once it cooked these crumbs would fall to the bottom of the fryer and form a layer of crumby/crust gunk! So A) the gas burners had to get the heat through this layer of gunk to get to the oil so wasted energy B) doing so actually just burnt this gunk/waste more and more resulting in ‘dirty’ tasting oil and also causing  premature oil failure, (think of an old smoking fryer you may have seen used). This resulted in needing to change the oil more often or sooner than ideally required, which equals BIG $$$ per month per year.

So the ‘V’ base works as it allows the crumbs to fall deep down into the middle of the fryer and down into that big valley. That Valley is MUCH cooler than up higher onto top of the burger sections, so the crumbs don’t cook and burn, resulting in massive oil life increase, in some studies 25-30% more..also the efficiency of the burners being just under the baskets means much faster recover times of the oil temperature.

So ‘v’ these days is the norm for nay place doing volume. Is there a place for flat bottom fryers?

YES! yes you say but what how/why? Chips (not coated plain type) as there is very little waste of plain chips we don’t have that problem caused by crumbs and batter. So we can flat bottom the fryer and it will take up to 25-40% less oil in the tank! So straight away a 40% less oil to purchase, no brainer you say…hmmmn I say not so fast…as I am seeing so much ‘coated’ or ‘treated’ chip product out there these days, and with that a lot of that treatment will fall off in the cook. So its a case by case consideration.

Tube Burners are quite popular as many are priced at the affordable end of the scale. Hopefully the below image shows the difference in types, many tube style fryers incorporate a v also. The down side to tube burners is that they are harder to clean, the manufacturers would say differently but it is a fact.

Where they win is ‘efficiency ‘  of the burners (gas) as the tubes are immersed in the oil they are contacting more of the oil and tend to have a higher performance rate than other burner types, so for items like chips they are a good choice.

Deep fryer types

Pressure Fryers

The other type of fryer, often not thought of in Australia with exception of a well known chicken franchise, but in the states commonly used in many different business. The short story is faster, moisture cooking especially for boned in chicken pieces. Rather than write too much I found this great explanation video…couldn’t of said it better myself, take notes on the the discussion about the cold zone, and self filtration machines.

Electric or GAS?

Save your homework, go into all the ‘major’ fast food franchise restaurants of the world they use electric, they have have invested huge chunks of time and money into their product/Equipment  R&D they haven’t come up with this same answer time and time again by mistake!

Put your hand over the back of a deep fryer (over the flue) and see for your self NO DON’T DO THAT you will get burnt! That’s how hot that wasted air/energy is , and you paid for it if its your fryer! With electricity the elements are in the oil, there is much less energy wasted.

Having said that getting enough power into a kitchen can often be an issue, especially on renovations and expansions, so Gas is often the answer

Thermostat so important! If your fryer isn’t at correct temperature when you drop those baskets of chips you are going to ‘soak’ a lot of oil up into the product, rather than the medium ‘sealing’ the product and frying it, under temp fryers can cost you thousands in oil each year, not to mention a poorly cooked greasy food item! Invest in a fryer that shows you by a light or display of some sort that says it’s reached temperature and its ready to go!

Accuracy of the thermostat is crucial, for the reason above and also to ensure you are not cooking at too high a temperature, to high simply means you risk burning the oil/food, ruining taste and also risking fire! Too high will also reduce the lifespan of your oil.

Filtering at the risk of preaching to the converted this is SO CRUCIAL the more you filter , the better you filter the longer your oil will last and save you thousands of dollars per year, plus the food will taste better.

How to do it and how often? As often as possible especially fryers that have messy products eg S&P calamari, do it after every service, seriously EVERY SHIFT watch your oil life increase and costs decrease.

How? With a filtering machine and proper micro filters, get the best. If you can afford it and you have multiple fryers invest in a self filtering , auto top up system, most of the brands have them, with these you can filter many times per day all day, without staff, so much safer and cheaper, these systems in busy places will often pay for themselves in oil saving within 1-2 years.

An example of one type of auto system is shown here,

 

Other ways you can increase the life of your oil is to filter your self with a floor based system where you empty the oil into a tank and it filters and pumps back into the fryer. These systems are fine when done after hours and no one is working near the fryers, they do have a fair bit of OHS risk also if the oil is too hot and someone knocks the tube, but they work well and are good base IF they are used regularly.

A combination of the two methods above is a Vito machine, the advantage of such is that it doesn’t take up floor space and can be simply move from one fryer to another, you can also run multiple filters per vat per day.

Here is how they work.

The Inspiration for a fryer topic?

I’m in the position of being able to walk into MANY different kitchens each week, and the common trend these days I see is to have ‘someone sort out your oil for you’ . What a great service and idea, no more storing drums of oil/fat , dealing with disgusting waste oil/fat stores, ordering it’s all managed for the client, the truck comes each week and swaps it all over , its a great improvement for kitchens and chefs for sure, massive as they can spend that time on more important tasks. However with it I have  seen a complacency to be aware of oil/costs/use/ and lifespan as it’ now all taken care of by someone else.

If you were to implement some of the above tips, maybe you could  extract  an extra 2 days out of your oil before it ‘really’ needed to be replaced , rather than this is the day of the week it gets done. Lets say a client implemented just the Vito strategy on 4 fryers after each service and they did extend the oil life, maybe they could be looking at an extra 50-100 days of oil x 4 fryers. Work out how much your organisation  spent on oil last year / 365 and that’s your oil cost per day, now take that at x 50 or 100…the maths is compelling.

The thing to keep in mind with the oil /swap/fill service, is that their money is made each time the filling truck comes to you, they are not in the business of extending a customer oil too much otherwise they are cutting their own income off, its like BP showing you a way to increase your cars fuel performance x 25%, its not going to happen!

Operators are keen to cut penalty rates on Sunday’s, increase meal costs to customers, but rarely do they get into the nitty gritty of ‘non obvious running costs’ such as power consumption or in this case oil/fat consumption, I bet everyone could save thousands off their oil costs by filtering properly and often.

Keeping your cool!

Another one in the obvious but clearly not obvious category.

Cool room door strips, Cold Shields. If you don’t have them on your doors you are wasting money.

They were/are designed for a specific purpose that is to keep cold air in and hot air out, and guess what they work! Manufacturers will claim numbers like 25% improvement in temperature controls, which in some cases I would say yes, others less so, all depends on the operating ambient temperatures and or drafts/breezes.

Chef’s hate them as we have to brush through them and if you are carrying a tray of something delicate you can bet that the strips will smack into the goods and ruin them!

But for the inconvenience of having to have someone open the strips for you occasionally, the business is going to be saving thousands of dollars in energy costs, coolroom motors cost a lot to run and if they are working over time even worse, for  a few hundred dollars you can save thousands  and also give your coolroom a chance of actually working to correct food safe temperatures, they are a non negotiable.