In so many ways, your refrigerator is the heart of your kitchen. It's where you store your inventory until you’re ready to transform it into delicious meals for eager customers. It’s also the only way to keep all of your valuable supply chain materials — be they produce, meat, seafood, or dairy — from spoiling. It’s a central location, too, that nearly everyone encounters during a shift. And if it goes on the brink, look out!
Not all restaurant owners understand how vital refrigerator maintenance and hygiene are, but for an attentive chef who is engaged in the kitchen, working with commercial food storage and refrigerators or walk-ins is a central part of day-to-day operations. Just take a look at any of the long-running food service industry shows featuring top chef Gordon Ramsey as he scrutinizes one restaurant after another to find out where problems lie.
So often, the problem starts in the refrigerator! With that said, how do you keep a commercial refrigerator in great condition — clean, organized, and working well to deliver quality to your staff and customers? Here's how chefs, business owners, and restaurant managers can work together to improve commercial refrigerator upkeep and related food handling. Most of these recommendations are fairly simple, but just ask someone who has spent time in the kitchen, and they’ll agree — these tips pay off!
Perform Comprehensive Cleaning
Some of the best kitchens clean the commercial refrigerator daily, but it's just a quick scan or once-through. Comprehensive cleaning involves getting everything out of the refrigerator and starting from zero so you can make sure you’re addressing every part of the fridge or walk-in. Some places insist on doing this every week! If that sounds like too much, remember how important a clean refrigerator is to your crew. Pro tip: It's important to unplug the unit before doing comprehensive cleaning or significant maintenance. This step is a common-sense part of electrical safety, so don't let anyone in your operation ignore it!
Sanitizing and Cleaning a Commercial Refrigerator
When everything is removed from the commercial refrigerator unit, it’s time to start in one corner and disinfect and sterilize every surface. There are a lot of vendor cleaning products for this, although some chefs prefer to use natural options like vinegar. Whatever you choose has to be applied universally to make sure you don't neglect any nooks and crevices that might harbor nasty bacteria over time. In addition, someone should clean the coils of the refrigeration system. This outside cleaning and maintenance helps keep the refrigerator energy-efficient and working capably to cool your food. Over time, dirt and debris can get into the coils and compromise the refrigerator’s efficiency and performance.
Restocking and Organizing a Commercial Refrigerator
When you’ve immaculately cleaned your refrigerator and it’s ready to store food again, there are some best practices that are important to follow when restocking. First, make sure you have discarded any food items that are not useful, too old, or cluttering up your refrigerator space. This will allow you to see all of your inventory and useful ingredients. You can then take accurate stock of what you have available and better plan your food orders and menu offerings.
After the all-important step of decluttering, there are two fundamental rules you should follow to make sure you organize your storage the best way possible to support daily operations. First, when stacking shelves, be sure to store raw meat underneath cooked and ready-to-eat food. Put poultry on the bottom, beef and other red meat above that, and seafood above that. Then put the cooked and ready-to-eat items at the top. By organizing your refrigerator this way, you eliminate the chance of any juice or other raw material contaminating other inventory.
Despite your best intentions, plastic bags or other containers used to store the meat can still leak or slip open. Proper organization is incredibly important in maintaining food safety. Another very effective strategy is called “first in first out” organization. With this popular rule, you position the items that need to get used sooner in the front of the commercial fridge. Cooks and kitchens that don't follow this directive can end up wasting tons of food and increasing food costs quite a bit, and unnecessarily.
In addition to these two essential rules, a third helpful practice is to look at different kinds of labeling that will let you immediately see where everything is in your refrigerator. Some chefs use color-coding, and others use sharpies to identify and date containers. Along with these organizational strategies, you also want to make sure that you wrap and cover foods appropriately to prevent them from releasing odors into the refrigerator. With all of this in place, you can be confident that you have a good strategy for maintaining a clean and orderly commercial refrigerator for your kitchen.
Take it from us — at Chefs’ Toys, our experts have real experience in kitchens. We are “for chefs, by chefs,” and we know how to keep a kitchen running smoothly, with profitable and safe operations through every season.