KEEPING REFRIGERATION COOL: How to stop your kitchens buckling in the heat this summer

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Keeping refrigeration equipment cool may sound an easy task, but with the warmer weather on its way this category of equipment can leave operators with massive headaches if it goes wrong. FEJ details the maintenance best practice you need to follow with the help of some of the market’s top experts.

The mercury is slowly rising and that means only one thing for kitchens: all-important refrigeration equipment is likely to come under increased strain in the months ahead. It’s a fact of refrigeration life that higher ambient temperatures create extra challenges for those trying to hold everything together in kitchens around the country.

“Equipment should be well-maintained all year round as there are fluctuations in kitchen temperature all year round, not just in summer months,” says Wayne Meadows, service manager at Birmingham-based Phoenix Commercial Catering Equipment. “But major issues seem to happen around this time of year as refrigeration is often left unmaintained through the winter months; this is when components like compressors and door seals tend to have issues, naturally hindering the overall performance of refrigeration systems.”

Every specialist services provider will tell you that a good planned preventative maintenance regime will massively reduce the prospect of that horror scenario when the meat fridge goes down on a balmy Sunday afternoon and the punters are hungry.

“The best course of action to ensure efficient and economical operation would be to have a six-monthly PPM contract in place and have a visit around April-May time to prepare for the coming increased ambient temperatures, and then another visit six months later to clear the predominantly dryer dustier environments,” says Michael Dungworth, northern area manager at Nationwide Catering Engineers.

But what if you haven’t got a service planned? Well, there are some basic steps operators can take, says Simon Machin, marketing manager at maintenance firm Serviceline.

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“If an operator has no planned routine maintenance in place then the absolute minimum requirement is to ensure their refrigeration is kept as clean as possible, following the manufacturer’s guidelines,” he says. “Additionally, care should also be taken to ensure staff are trained to load fridges properly and not to obstruct the air circulation, particularly on delivery days. Overfilling a refrigeration unit or walk-in is one sure-fire way of causing it not to hold temperature and fail.”

Staff must also be aware of how long or how often they are using the unit. “If staff are constantly opening the door, or worse, propping the door open while taking deliveries, the unit will be continuously subjected to the higher ambient temperature, working it harder as it tries to bring the temperature down, increasing the risk of failure,” adds Machin.

Overall good maintenance is the starting point for the efficient workings of refrigeration systems. Knowing your appliance condition and performance level is also wise to ensure that you can tell your refrigeration system is up to what’s required of it in the first place.

If staff are propping the door open while taking deliveries, the unit will be continuously subjected to the higher ambient temperature, working it harder”

If nothing else, operators should undertake a simple survey from a qualified service company in the run-up to summer, insists Richard Jeffryes, contracts manager Catercall Technical Services.

He says a specialist engineer will be able to professionally determine if units are running to the correct temperature by checking the temperature log analytics built into most refrigeration systems.

“Often a simple inspection with sights and sounds is a good indicator as to how your refrigeration is working,” he adds. “Does it sound strange or loud? Are the fans working excessively hard? Is there ice build-up? All these things are vitally important this time of year in the run-up to the summer season where many establishments see an increase in business and demand on their equipment.”

It’s also sensible to have evaporation trays, gasket seals, door seals and vents assessed. And it is vital that refrigeration units are not over-stocked to ensure proper air flow and cooling, notes Jeffryes.

Common areas of breakdown

While refrigeration systems can break down at any point, there are a few classic areas that are more likely to need attention when the ambient temperature is higher.

Serviceline’s Simon Machin suggests key components which often lead to failure are the unit’s compressor and evaporator.

“These two components, if not correctly tended to, can experience problems such as ice build-up on the evaporator and dust on the compressor. These problems often only come to light when the units are placed under increased duress. This may be from the higher ambient temperature or simply operators needing to place more items inside units, changing the operational capacity.”

Andy Rasberry, spares and service manager at Foster Refrigerator, agrees. He says that intricate components such as the compressor tend to be among the first to break down as maintenance-intensive debris such as grease and dust can build up in the condenser, leading to inefficiencies in temperature control.

“These kinds of equipment failures can lead to big financial implications for the outlet as well as disruptions for the entire kitchen, which is the last thing needed over peak summer trading periods.”

In order to combat this particular issue, Foster’s G2 range actually comes fitted with a ‘+stayclear’ condenser. It features a unique ‘aerofoil tube’ design which allows greater airflow, drastically increasing surface heat exchange and therefore reducing stress on the compressor and fan motor.

Manufacturers issue operating instructions: read them and apply them! Or risk breakdowns, stock loss and expensive, time-losing repairs”

Richard Jeffryes has received plenty of calls from panicked operators wondering why the fans on their refrigeration systems suddenly start operating very loudly. Usually it’s because the kit is in far from optimum condition in the first place. “The fan systems are often compensating for poor performance. That being said, a fan is very easy and cost-effective to replace, but if a compressor fails due to the increased workload, this is a massive job,” he says.

Another common issue Catercall finds with refrigeration service is a shortage of gas in the system. Again, if it goes unchecked it could cause catastrophic failure, but it would almost certainly be picked up during a PPM service.

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Chris Craggs, CEO at McFarlane Telfer, says operators often overlook the fact they have an obligation to keep equipment maintained.

“Don’t imagine that because you have a year’s warranty that you don’t have to look after your kit,” he says. “If the condenser is clogged with dust when the OEM technician turns up, you will be facing an expensive bill, as you would if you have it stacked to the gunwales and it’s therefore not holding temperature or if you’ve located your fridge where it can’t breathe — which happens alarmingly frequently!”

Craggs also has a word of warning for those that don’t even bother to look at system user manuals. “Manufacturers issue operating instructions: read them and apply them! Or risk breakdowns, stock loss and expensive, time-losing repairs.”

Maintenance regimes

The more you maintain heavy duty equipment such as refrigeration, the fewer issues you should face. Just making staff aware of the basics can reduce the chances of expensive call-outs, says Phoenix Commercial Catering’s Wayne Meadows. “Good practice from end-users is to simply ensure that airflow in the kitchen is suffice and to avoid overfilling fridges and freezers,” he insists.

If you stay on top of your maintenance with regular checks and familiarise yourself with your equipment, you will find you’re much more attune to warning signs when they do arise.

It’s vitally important operators keep their condensers clean, says Foster’s Andy Rasberry. “An occasional brush or vacuum to remove dust and debris, along with ensuring the ventilation grills are not blocked or pushed against other objects, is great to maintain adequate ventilation. Good airflow is also essential inside the cabinet to maintain the correct product temperature, so don’t block the grills or over-stock the cabinet. By not following these simple steps, the system may have to work harder, using more energy and requiring additional maintenance.”

It’s also becoming apparent that sites will be required to hold an F-Gas register document to state the types and quantities of refrigerants that are contained within and amended if any refrigeration works take place, says Nationwide Catering Engineers’ Michael Dungworth.

“I believe this would definitely be beneficial for sites when locating equipment and giving comprehensive information when logging service calls, thus speeding up service, certainly where site-specific equipment is required.”

CESA’S top 5 tips for keeping refrigeration systems up and running this summer

1. Keep condensers clean and clear of blockages, and check and replace seals (gaskets) if necessary.

2. Don’t let staff exceed load levels of the cabinet or persistently leave the door open.

3. Check you have commercial grade refrigeration equipment designed to operate at the required ‘climate class’. If your equipment is designed to operate at 32°C, you can’t expect it to cope in ambient temperatures of 43°C.

4. Staff misuse of equipment is the most common reason for equipment breakdown. Be sure that staff are fully trained and follow manufacturer’s guidelines on day-to-day maintenance.

5. In terms of minimising the risk of breakdown, the best solution is a planned preventative maintenance service contract.

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