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Don’t let your refrigeration costs leave you out in the cold

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There are some hard and fast rules you can follow to reduce your refrigeration costs and keep your kitchen performing at its peak. Tim Smallwood from Foodservice Consultants Australia reports.

It’s never too soon to service your refrigerators, but it can definitely be too late. Just like your car, refrigeration requires periodic servicing if you don’t want to be let down at the worst possible time. Of course it may not be a lack of servicing that’s the reason your refrigerator keeps breaking down - just like packing a ute to the rafters because you didn’t want to spend the cash on a truck, overloading a refrigerator or freezer will also end up costing you, both in terms of food spoilage and after-hours call out fees.

Assuming that you have bought the right refrigerator for the job with the right engine capacity and the right load capacity, the next thing you need to think about is where to put it. It’s no good complaining if you take your Toyota Yaris off-road and it breaks down because it gets overheated; just like a vehicle engine, a refrigerator needs ventilation to work. Putting a refrigerator in a storeroom without adequate ventilation will result not only in the room getting hot and the spoiling of other foods, but it will also cause the refrigerator motor to burn out.

In the same way, a bench-type refrigerator must have ventilation and if you pile up boxes of cups on the shelves alongside the refrigerator motor, the same thing will happen. Likewise if the refrigerator is sitting in the sun or too close to cooking equipment without suitable protection, even if it doesn’t break down, it won’t work efficiently and as a result will cost more to run.

The difficulty is that when you look for a new refrigerator you will find there is a wide range of prices for what on the surface would appear to be identical units: all have the same capacity and number of doors and they’ll all probably last over 10 years, even if you don’t have them serviced regularly. The difference between these refrigerators will be how much it costs to keep them running in addition to the purchase price. This includes the operating cost, the cost of maintenance and in the worst case the cost of food loss and even loss of business in the event of breakdown. Most of the features available on modern refrigerators, such as drawers for an under-bench cabinet and half doors for an upright cabinet, are designed for not only more  efficient use but also their running cost will be lower. 

The cost of maintaining a well-made modern refrigerator is just like the cost of keeping your new car on the road: choose the right equipment for the job, look after it and service it regularly. This will help you stay in business for many years to come.

Some helpful pointers
Julian Ha from accredited kitchen designers, Foodservice Consultants Australia, points out that even the best maintained piece of equipment will occasionally suffer small problems. The most important thing to do is recognise the problem and do something about it before it becomes worse. All too often we see a two- or three-door refrigerator with one door out of line with the others - a sign that a door hinge is loose. Without the simple task of tightening a couple of screws the hinge becomes more and more loose with regular opening and closing until the hinge fixings pull out of the metal and the door falls.

Wasco Dimitroff from foodservice design consultancy, MTD, reinforces the fact that early intervention in maintenance will save money. For instance making sure the door gaskets make a seal when the door is shut. They can easily get damaged which will result in leakage and increase the running cost of the cabinet. You can put off getting the serviceman in to replace the gasket because of the cost, or you can pay a bit more for the refrigerator and get one which has “push-in” gaskets which you can replace yourself without tools - just ring up the manufacturer or agent, give them the model number and they’ll post you the replacement which you can replace in minutes. 

Dimitroff also advises that the best option for managing the risk of refrigeration breakdown is toinvest in a maintenance contract which will ensure your food spoilage risks are eliminated.

Brad Dunn, managing director of Williams Refrigeration Australia points out that the running cost of the refrigerator is also in your control when you are selecting a new cabinet – so choose wisely. The most efficient refrigeration is the unit with the highest heat capacity to watts. A typical reach-in refrigerator operates 16 to 18 hours a day and a higher wattage unit operating for 16 hours a day will be 12.5 percent more efficient than a lower wattage unit that has to operate 18 hours a day, with a corresponding lower operating cost.

Other factors that will have an impact on the running cost include the defrost system: a hot gas defrost will have a lower overall running cost than an electric defrost even though there will be a higher refrigeration energy cost. Most refrigerators today use a forced draft evaporator which uses a fan to circulate the cold air through the refrigerator. These are not only more efficient than static coil or natural convection cooling (eg no fan), they also require less energy to run because the evaporator temperature required to maintain the unit at the required temperature is higher.

A unit running at four degrees celsius will have a forced draft evaporator running at minus 1.1 degrees celsius compared with a static evaporator which has to run at minus 6.7 degrees celsius to maintain the same temperature, which results in the cooling system costing more to run.

Dunn says that even if you already have an existing refrigerator or freezer, you are still in control of the running cost. Factors such as leaving the door open for longer than required (or not shutting it properly or not fixing a damaged gasket) can increase the running cost by 25 to 50 percent if care is not taken. It is also important that you set the temperature correctly in a storage refrigerator and do not use it to chill cooked food or you will affect the overall temperature and risk the other food items being stored.

Craig Pickford, managing director of Scope Refrigeration, points out that in the case of walk-in cool rooms, the normal usage is considered to be six to eight door openings a day and heavy use is 12 or more times a day.

The heat which infiltrates the cool room when the door is opened increases by up to 50 percent between normal and heavy usage. Cool rooms are not efficient for frequent access by the cook having to go into the room during service for every new order, changing the duty of the room from normal to heavy duty with the power cost increasing accordingly. For this kind of use, a cabinet in the work area or under counter refrigerator drawers will not only have a lower running cost but also be more efficient to use.

Pickford adds that one of the best ways to minimise your refrigeration costs is to make sure that you waste as little of the energy used to maintain the refrigerated temperature of your food as possible. Adding plastic strips to your walk-in cooler doors can reduce the heat gain experienced when the door is open by over 30 percent, which might be as much as over 20kW a day. An air-curtain over the door can save twice that amount.

At the end of the day, you will minimise costs and maximise profits if you simply select the right equipment in the first place. You will have to invest from the get-go, but as they say, you’ve got to spend money to make money.

Tim Smallwood FFCSI MDIA
Principal: Foodservice Design Management
Professional Advisory Services


Image: anchercool.com; www.boston.com

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