Protecting the product and the people
As seen in VendingConnection.com – Food safety essentials for your commercial vending or micro market refrigerated units.
There’s no question that the micro market industry is growing strong – projected to bring in at least $7 billion in revenue by 2020. That’s 99.2% growth from 2012-2013, as more consumers of all ages are using vending machines and micro markets for their snacks and meals.1 But that’s not the only growth you should be looking at. Given the right conditions, bacteria found in food can double every ten minutes, which means that 1,000 bacteria can grow to 1 million in just over an hour and a half! Maintaining food safety – and ensuring the “cold chain” is never interrupted – is just as important as any revenue.
ACT – ensure food safety by taking care of the Air Flow, Cleaning and Temperature
Whether you contract a third party to maintain your equipment or you do it yourself, a good way to remember maintenance tasks is with the acronym “ACT:” as proper Air Flow, regular Cleaning and Temperature monitoring are all crucial for ensuring that your equipment is running properly and safely.
Air Flow – let it breathe
Ensuring optimal air flow begins right at installation and a general guideline is to install your unit 6 inches away from the wall. Placing it too close to the wall will cause the cabinet to overheat, which increases the risk of product spoiling. The unit should be plugged into its own electrical socket as well, since more than one item plugged into its socket can cause the circuit breaker to overload and fail. You should also avoid installing your unit near equipment that radiates heat or produces a lot of airborne oil and grime, which over time can build up on condensers. Doing regular visual inspections are important – make sure there are no objects blocking the airflow, because a blocked condenser can result in part failure, spoiled product, higher electrical costs and possibly void your warranty.
How you stock the unit also matters, because interior airflow is just as important. For optimal operation, be sure to distribute the product evenly inside the unit. Most units have load limit lines marked and overloading to “save space” will block the evaporator fans and inhibit air circulation, which can cause the unit to work overtime and lead to irreparable damage. Cabinets are also better able to maintain a stable temperature if they’re full rather than empty, since the thermal mass of the refrigerated or frozen products helps to maintain the interior temperature.
Cleaning – the ins and outs
Cleaning your refrigerated unit regularly (about once a month or so) is crucial for several reasons: for hygiene, to look appealing to customers, to reduce wear on the system and to inspect for damage. For example, when wiping down the door gaskets and glass, check for gaps or tears in the gaskets, damaged gaskets can cause air leakage or a build-up of dirt or grease. If you’re not able to snap them back into place, they need to be replaced.
Always unplug your unit before cleaning the interior or exterior, and never apply cleaner directly onto the cabinet, since excessive liquid can seep into the electrical connections and cause a malfunction or electrical hazard. Be sure to use a soft cloth with a mild, non-abrasive liquid cleaner, (no ammonia or bleach), mixed with water. To avoid any contamination, ensure all cleaning materials are cleaned and stored between jobs, so bacteria isn’t transferred from one surface to another, and keep cleaning equipment for refrigeration units separate from those used for floors or other equipment in the store. Most units are self-defrosting, but if you have manual defrost units, do not neglect regular defrosting as this can aid in avoiding serious damage to compressors. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, or better yet, buy units that have automatic defrosting functionality.
With conventional condensers, it’s important to clean them monthly, to avoid breakdowns caused by an overworked motor. Some units, like those we manufacture at Minus Forty, are built with low maintenance condensers that just require an annual visual inspection. The unique spiral design doesn’t become clogged like conventional condensers do, so there is almost no maintenance other than regular checks. If your condenser does need cleaning, remove the front grill, switch off on the control panel and unplug it, then use a small, hand-held duster to clean inside the condenser. In some cases, you may want to take a vacuum cleaner to clean up any additional debris. Don’t forget to reattach the front grill, which helps to protect the condenser from debris and damage.
Temperature – set it for safety
In a micro market environment where doors are being opened and closed frequently, maintaining optimal temperatures within the unit is crucial. For example, chilled foods like microwavable meals and sandwiches should be kept below 46°F, with 37°F to 41°F being most ideal. Temperature variations are a serious threat to food safety, potentially contributing to bacteria growth, pathogens and cross-contamination. While it’s possible to manage and monitor temperatures manually, with periodic temperature readings noted in a ledger, it needs to be done very frequently. Otherwise, hours could pass between scheduled manual checks and a spike in temperature. Therefore, automated temperature management systems, like the innovative NAMA-certified SmartLock™, can give you a higher degree of confidence (pun intended). A SmartLock food health monitor is a built-in device that alerts you to a change in temperature that could jeopardize the state of the food. If the temperature rises above a pre-set temperature point, the unit automatically locks the door. The door can be unlocked for food inspection, but in the meantime, customers have not been sold any potentially spoiled product.
When you consider the cost of malfunctioning equipment in lost sales, repairs, labor and downtime, not to mention the reputational damage of spoiled product, establishing regular cleaning and maintenance routines is just good business practice. Purchasing high quality freezers and refrigerators equipped with self-cleaning condensers, digital thermostats and food safety locks will also go a long way in protecting your products and, more importantly, the people you’re selling them to.