Organizing items in your commercial refrigerator and freezer may not be the most exciting thing on your to-do list. After all, as a restaurant owner, chef or manager you have menus to create, supplies to order, and employees to schedule. Refrigeration equipment should work well on its own, right?
With a few quick fixes in terms of organization, you can prevent hot spots, improve cleanliness, and maintain food safety in all your refrigeration equipment.
- Space food items appropriately. When storing items in bulk, be sure there is adequate space between food boxes so cold air can circulate. Better circulation means better cooling results, and fewer “hot spots” inside. The same concept goes for prepped food items as well: pans of pre-made appetizers, containers of soup, or frozen desserts. Both in the refrigerator and in the freezer, keep three to six inches from each wall and between each food item for the best cold air circulation.
- Keep items off the floor. Storing items at least six inches from the floor is a commandment in almost all commercial kitchens. This improves sanitation by preventing pest infestation and contact with dirty floors. Most commercial reach-ins have built-in shelves, but you may need to set up your own stationary shelving units or dunnage racks in a walk-in cooler.
- Store meat items on the lowest shelves. As a food safety precaution, store meat on the lowest shelves of your commercial refrigerator. As meats thaw or marinate, faulty food storage containers or an accidental spill can contaminate other food product below the meat. If meat is on the bottom shelf, any spills will simply fall through to the floor, and thanks to those six inches, you can easily mop it up.
- Store fresh produce away from the fans. Internal refrigerator fans can actually damage food items stored near it, like fresh greens or delicate fruits like berries. Fresh produce is susceptible to damage and should be stored as far from the fan vents as possible. Items in sealed containers will be more likely to maintain their integrity. In the freezer, storing food too close to the fan can result in freezer burn.
- Follow the rule of FIFO. Pay attention to food product shelf-life and “use-by” dates. Put a date sticker on every product before putting it into the refrigerator, or simply mark it with a pen. Place the newest items at the back of every shelf. Slide older items forward. Any open items should be used first, as long as they are still fresh. Following this rule, known as first-in, first-out (FIFO), ensures proper product rotation for the freshest and safest inventory possible.
- Label the shelves. Labeling the refrigerator shelves is a good way to ensure that employees can identify every product. This can help with storage and organization too, especially when stocking new inventory. Use shelf-labeling accessories to make this job easier.
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