In the food industry, refrigeration maintenance can mean the difference between food that’s safe and food that’s spoiled. Given the cost of replacement, it’s tempting to keep units operating for as long as possible, but a busy operation that runs 24 hours a day, with doors opening and closing multiple times, puts high recovery demands on the compressors.

The physical cabinets and interiors can take a beating, too. A reliable system of monitoring, maintaining and repairing units will mitigate large-scale breakdowns, which can be expensive when you include lost product, downtime and other related costs. 

Lack of maintenance forces equipment to work harder to compensate, resulting in higher energy costs and causing machinery to break down sooner from higher use. In-house maintenance performed on a regular basis can help extend the life of equipment and is often essential for keeping warranty coverage intact. A good place to start in establishing a maintenance program is the manufacturer’s recommendations that come with the equipment.

Frequent visual inspections can catch little problems that can balloon into bigger ones in time. A visual check of fans and exhaust screens for debris can help spot buildup, which can accumulate over time and cause breakdowns.

Many maintenance issues can be handled in-house by trained staff. Door handles, filters and gaskets are a few examples of items that might require replacement, which can be done with little expertise. It’s helpful to train all employees in basic maintenance so they have a healthy respect for the equipment with which they are working. Giving trusted staff minor scheduled maintenance jobs is a good way to ensure they are invested in the bigger picture.

Putting a regular maintenance schedule into place is one of the best things you can do. Here is a list of key maintenance-related tasks:

  • Scheduled cleaning on a weekly basis (or more often if necessary). Keep the interior and exteriors clean with regular washdowns. Make sure to mop underneath units to keep area clear of bacteria or other contaminants that could clog condenser coils.
  • Check exterior parts. Inspect hinges, as well as gaskets/seals and door latches for air leaks and any build-up of dirt, dust and grease.
  • Check temperature settings. Standard reach-in commercial refrigerators typically operate in the range of 0°C to 5°C (32°F to 41°F). Commercial reach-in freezers typically operate in the range of -22°C to -18°C (-8°F to 0°F). Ice cream reach-in freezers are typically designed to operate at -24°C (-10°F), with some units operating at -29°C to -24°C (-20°F to -10°F).
  • Check that the unit isn’t overloaded past the recommended fill levels to ensure adequate air flow.
  • Make sure refrigeration units are kept away from equipment that radiates heat or creates a lot of airborne oil or grease.
  • To properly maintain a system, all the major components should be included in the maintenance schedule. These include the evaporator(s), compressor(s) and condensing unit(s). 

Consider purchasing units that have digital thermostats that monitor the internal temperature and issue alerts if doors are left open. Having fully integrated smart monitors that detect when a high temperature threshold has been reached could be essential to operating safely and maintaining product integrity.

Defrosting units is time-consuming and costly. Choose units that have auto-defrost functionality to avoid lengthy downtimes and additional labor costs. Many refrigerators and freezers have condensers that need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Instead, look for units with low-maintenance condensers, which only require occasional visual inspections to ensure they are clean of any dirt or dust, depending on how clean the environment is. Low maintenance condensers can save time, labor and contribute to lower operating costs.


Signs of trouble

When units have been properly installed and maintained, they will usually run trouble-free for many years, but there are obvious warning signs to let you know that something is amiss. Units that run loudly or can’t maintain safe storage temperatures — or compressors that cycle too frequently — are all signs of pending issues that should be addressed as quickly as possible to avoid bigger problems and spoiled product.