Many kitchens are built around the refrigeration equipment, as sensible planning starts where the food is stored. The growing trend is for smaller refrigeration cabinets in separate preparation areas, for maximum efficiency.
Because it often takes up as much space as the cooking equipment, refrigeration needs to be at the heart of kitchen design. Many of the best kitchens are built around chillers and freezers, as sensible planning starts with where the food is stored before it's taken out for prepping and cooking.
There's a growing trend towards smaller refrigeration cabinets for meat, fish and salads or vegetables in separate preparation areas. Under-counter drawer-style refrigerator cabinets can help to make a kitchen work more efficiently because they enable individual chefs to have all the ingredients they need to hand without having to move. There are even multi-temperature drawer options available from specialist manufacturers.
COMMERCIAL V DOMESTIC
No domestic-class fridge is suitable for any catering application. Commercial fridges use fans to move cold air around the cabinet. This ensures that the cabinet quickly gets down to the correct temperature when, for example, the door is opened. A domestic fridge can't cope with the rigours of a commercial environment.
REMOTE V INTEGRATED
Most conventional cabinets are integrated systems, with all component parts built in. Remote systems - where the compressor and fan are sited away from the cabinet or coldroom and connected by pipes - are growing in popularity because they are quieter and cooler in operation, and usually more efficient and cheaper to run. While they are more complex to install, they can be ideal for larger sites.
Less cold air is lost when a drawer is opened than with a door (left); if you have a coldroom, make sure staff are trained not to open the door unnecessarily, to keep it cool
Q We have a contract to supply catering at a busy office site. However, the type of catering might vary in the next few months, and we are uncertain what kind of refrigeration we might need. Should we be thinking of walk-in refrigerators and freezers or separate cabinets?
A If you aren't sure whether the refrigeration you need now is what you will need in a year's time, you might consider a dual-use reach-in unit.
Modern refrigerators can keep temperatures at or below 5°C, while freezers maintain temperatures at -18°C or even less. Reach-in freezers are typically equipped with larger compressors, larger fans and baffles designed to provide higher velocity air movement than their refrigerated cousins.
Dual use reach-in units can be changed from refrigerator to freezer operating mode at the flip of a switch. These units could prove flexible if you find your menu options changing - say if your ratio of frozen to fresh raw product changes.
Q I'm looking to replace the ageing refrigeration cabinets at our seafood restaurant. But I'm worried about the capital cost and how quickly I can make back the investment. What should I do?
A Choose from equipment on the government's ECA Energy Technology List (ETL), as you can claim 100% of the cost against tax in the first year and may qualify for interest-free loans to buy it. An ETL-approved product should also save on running costs.
Unfortunately, refrigeration is currently the only type of food service kit on the list, although CESA is campaigning to have more types added.
More details of this scheme can be found at www.eca.gov.uk/etl
Q We're a school caterer and have to make our refrigeration last as long as possible. We don't have the budget this year to replace it with the very latest models. How can we improve the performance of our existing units?
A Public organisations often don't have the funds, but they frequently have more space than commercial kitchens, and refrigeration works better with plenty of space around it. Make sure the cabinet is as well ventilated as possible; look at re-siting the fridges so that they aren't right next to heat-generating equipment, such as ovens; and minimise how often you have to open them.
See below for more tips on how to save energy and increase your fridge's performance.
The good news is that the latest generation of refrigeration cabinets are not only better at chilling and freezing, but also less energy-hungry than those from only a decade ago. If you're planning to buy new refrigeration equipment, look for the following energy-saving features:
● Smart controls - Can cut running costs: for example, by minimising energy use during quiet periods
● High performance insulation - Better at keeping the cold in
● Hydro carbon refrigerant gas - Can save energy costs
● Under-counter drawers - Less cold air is lost when a drawer is opened than with a door
● Self-closing doors - Minimise the loss of cold air
To keep running costs down, try these energy-saving tips:
● Never put hot food inside a fridge to cool
● Don't overfill the fridge - this will block the cabinet's internal airflow
● Get an energy audit. Putting off that replacement might help this year's capital budgets, but your old refrigeration equipment will cost more to run than a new, energy-efficient unit
● Shut that door. Train staff how to use the fridge properly. Plan preparation work so that the door does not need to be opened repeatedly and, once opened, always to remember to shut it straight away. Over the course of a year, the savings made by keeping the fridge shut are substantial, also as the fridge does not need to work so hard to keep cool, you will be extending its serviceable life
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations require that caterers keep good temperature records. Use a professional-quality probe thermometer and probe wipes, or invest in an automatic temperature monitoring system. If you chill food regularly, get a blast chiller to ensure you do this safely - these days many manufacturers offer small units as well as large ones.