We all know that food products are perishable. However, the most daunting task is storing and preserving their freshness. Failure to store these products in a conducive environment can lead to heavy losses. As such, any entity that deals with food products, from restaurants to food stores, ought to have a carefully planned storage system to ensure that all items are maintained in the appropriate conditions.
When food is exposed to extreme conditions, it may permit bacteria's growth, which can either predispose foodborne illnesses or lead to spoilage. However, refrigeration has proved to be one of the most incredible ways to slow bacterial growth in fresh food products. Since most bacteria grow faster in temperature ranging between 40 and 140 °F, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made it a requirement that all refrigerated foods should be stored at 40 Degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Proper food storage is encouraged since it reduces inventory losses, lowers incidences of food spoilage, and keeps the customers happy.
Tips to Ensure You Attain the Appropriate Temperatures in Your Walk-in Cooler
Freeze or Refrigerate Perishables Quickly
One of the areas where most organizations go wrong waiting longer to refrigerate their fresh products. This is contrary to the FDA requirement, which insists that freshly delivered items should not be left to stay at room temperature for more than two hours. However, if you are in a warm area where temperatures go beyond 90 degrees, then the rule changes to one hour. Additionally, some items such as meat, eggs, poultry, and seafood should be given special attention since they tend to spoil faster in warmer temperatures.
Ensure that the Walk-in Freezer’s Temperature is Always Optimal
As mentioned earlier, the FDA regulations require food-related freezers and coolers to be set at 40°F or below. However, most commercial refrigerators in the market are maintained at 38°F to offer a small leeway before food enters the “Danger Zone” (40-140°F). Keeping the temperatures at 40 degrees helps avoid spoilage and at the same time ensures that organizations adhere to the healthcare codes.
Install a Temperature Monitoring System
To ensure that your freezers are set in the right temperature range, you need to put in place a robust monitoring system. A few years ago, putting a thermometer in the freezer and having individuals manually collect and record data from it at certain intervals was enough to help you monitor temperature changes. However, the advancement in technology has led to the development of top-notch monitoring systems that can automatically track, record, and analyze temperature fluctuations.
The FDA recommends using a monitoring system that is fitted with sensors that alert you when there are problems and display unusual trends that may insinuate that the equipment is about to fail. Modern temperature monitoring systems are equipped to use Wi-Fi and other cloud services to ensure that restaurants or food stores get real-time information straight to their computers, smartphones, or tablets. Getting an automatic temperature monitoring system gives you the visibility of how the pieces of equipment respond to the changes in the climatic conditions.
Avoid Overpacking your Unit with Products and Have Some Order
Overfilling your walk-in cooler makes it work extra hard to maintain the appropriate temperature. This, in turn, causes wear and tear on components and lead to increased utility costs. Conversely, over stacking items in a unit limits adequate airflow and causes the temperature to fluctuate unexpectedly.
Additionally, since various products require different conditions, make sure you do not bundle all food items together. Some items, such as fish and poultry, are easily targeted by bacteria. As such, they should be placed in separate compartments with items such as vegetables and fruits. You can arrange your freezer in such a way that the ready-to-eat foods are at the top unit, vegetables and fruits are in the center, and raw meat, seafood, and poultry are at the bottom.
Preventive Maintenance is Essential
Another thing that many entities do not take seriously is the cleanliness of their coolers and freezers. Ensure that the evaporator, discharge lines, cooling coils are thoroughly cleaned, and all fluid levels are checked. Also, ensure that the fan is not obstructed. Allowing dirt to accumulate creates a conducive environment for bacterial growth and makes the walk-in cooler inefficient.
Staff should be trained to open the doors only when necessary and avoid blocking doors. When you allow into the freezer, it can cause the temperatures to surge, forcing the device to work extra hard to attain optimal levels.
What if there is a Power Outage?
Since the demand during summer can cause power outages, this can be a serious problem for any organization that deals with foods. However, planning for such situations can help your walk-in cooler or refrigerator maintain safe temperatures. Refrigerators and freezers are insulated to keep foods cold even when the power is off for a few hours. However, if the doors are not shut correctly or if they keep being opened, the coolness will be lost.
Foods stored in fully loaded freezers can last for two days or so, but those in partially loaded freezers may last for a day. Perishable refrigerated foods should be discarded if a power outage takes more than two hours. However, restaurants can use ice blocks to increase the shelf life of refrigerated products.
Other Things to Remember
While the recommended temperature for storing foods is 40°F and below, it is imperative to remember that some foods are more sensitive to temperatures than others. Therefore, the temperature you set the cooler at will depend on the type of food you want to store and the refrigeration unit you are using. For example, foods that should be stored below 35°F require a forced defrost cycle.
It would be best if you also remembered that commercial refrigeration units might take longer to stabilize their set temperatures, and the bigger the unit, the more time it will take. Therefore, before you store any products in them, it will be better to leave the unit for a day and recheck it.
Additionally, the FDA notes that the quality begins to decline when foods are stored for a long time. Therefore, they recommend that food is organized according to the use-by-date, and similar products should be kept together. Expired products should be thrown away.
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