A Guide to Commercial Refrigeration

Commercial Refrigeration Buyers' Guide
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Commercial refrigeration is a crucial part of any foodservice operation since it protects customers from foodborne illnesses caused by improper storage while keeping food and beverages at proper serving temperatures. Because of the number of processes and applications in a commercial kitchen that require refrigeration – from food prep to beverage service to specialty items – more than two dozen types of commercial refrigeration equipment are available. Learn more about them below to decide which ones may be essential for your restaurant, bar, deli, cafeteria, or other commercial foodservice concept.

Which Type of Commercial Refrigeration Do You Need?

Reach-in Refrigerators

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Reach-in Refrigerator

Generally the most popular solution for storing dairy, fish, raw meats, cooked products, and other perishable items at safe temperatures, reach-in refrigerators are a necessity for most foodservice operations.

  • Best for storing perishable products
  • Available with one, two, or three sections
  • Compressor may be top or bottom mounted

Having a reach-in refrigerator with a storage capacity that meets your production levels is important, as overfilling your cooler can force the unit to overwork itself and lead to improperly cooled food items or maintenance issues. However, the type of reach-in you install in your commercial kitchen will depend largely on how much space is available in your footprint and what you're preparing.

These commercial refrigerators are available with one, two, or three sections, with one-section reach-ins obviously offering the least amount of storage, three-section reach-ins offering the most, and two-section reach-ins falling somewhere in between.

If you have room, you may wish to purchase a larger unit to ensure you do not run out of storage space. If you are pressed for space, consider installing multiple smaller reach-in refrigerators, such as three one-section reach-ins. This setup can also help prevent inventory loss in the event one of your units goes down after operating hours.

Another important factor to consider is whether a reach-in refrigerator with a bottom- or top-mounted compressor would work best in your kitchen. If your commercial kitchen has a consistently hot ambient temperature, a bottom-mounted unit will keep the condenser in the coolest part of the kitchen without drawing in grease-laden vapors rising from the fryers and ranges on nearby cooking lines. However, if your reach-in refrigerator will be located away from cooking equipment, a top-mounted condenser ensures the system will not collect dust and debris from the floor, which can clog the coils.

Walk-in Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Walk-ins

Walk-in coolers are essentially room-sized refrigerators or freezers. This type of commercial refrigeration may be used for specialty applications, such as creating rooms for keg storage and storing large quantities of perishable items.

  • Best for bulk storage of perishable products
  • Available in standard or custom configurations
  • Indoor or outdoor installation

If you need to store more items in bulk than a reach-in refrigerator can accommodate, you may want to install a walk-in cooler. However, most walk-ins are not designed to pull food temperature down, so you should use blast chillers or other refrigeration equipment to bring food to safe temperatures prior to storing it in the walk-in. Unlike reach-in refrigerators, walk-ins are not meant to be accessed multiple times each daypart, so the door repeatedly opening and closing can lead to temperature fluctuations.

When purchasing this type of commercial refrigeration, you'll need to choose between a standard or custom unit. Standard walk-ins are prefabricated units designed to be easily assembled once they arrive at their location. They are usually square or rectangular in shape with widths and lengths measuring between 4 and 12 feet and heights measuring between 6 and 9 feet. Customization options for standard units may be limited, but they are usually less expensive and can be shipped more quickly than custom units, so they're a great option for businesses operating on budgetary or scheduling constraints.

If you plan to use the walk-in to cool food that isn't yet at food-safe temperatures, you'll likely need to purchase a customized unit with a refrigeration system that can handle the additional demand.

Walk-in coolers can be installed indoors or outdoors, but you should know which environment you'll use before ordering. The operating requirements for indoor units are different than those for outdoor units because of the impact weather has on the box, which may require additional accessories for optimal operation.

Salad, Sandwich, & Pizza Prep Tables

Types of Commercial Refrigeration Illustration: Prep Tables

Delicatessens, salad concepts, and pizza places can't do without refrigerated food prep tables, which provide storage on top of the unit for ingredients that need to be frequently accessed with additional cabinet storage.

  • Best for salad, sandwich, and pizza prep
  • Choose a Mega Top ingredient rail for extra storage
  • Refrigerated cabinet can have doors or drawers

These units are split into two categories: prep tables for salads and sandwiches and prep tables for pizzas. Each type of prep table can be identified by the depth of the cutting board attached to it. Cutting boards on salad and sandwich prep tables are usually between 9 and 12 inches wide, providing enough room to prepare bowls of salad and sandwiches on a variety of breads. In contrast, cutting boards on pizza prep tables are at least 19 inches deep in order to accommodate pizzas with large diameters.

Once you've decided whether your commercial kitchen requires a salad and sandwich or pizza prep table, you'll need to consider which style of pan rail best suits your needs and which front-access method is most convenient for your workflow.

Standard pan rails – the most common design – provide two rows of ingredients, which are meant to be held in sixth-size food pans. However, kitchens requiring additional ingredients may want their food prep tables to be equipped with a Mega Top pan rail, which provides an additional row of ingredients.

The refrigerated cabinet on food prep tables can be accessed via doors or drawers. Cabinets with doors provide shelf storage for containers of sauces and dressings, while drawers can hold additional food pans. Some units are available with both doors and drawers to offer the convenience of both designs.

Undercounter Refrigerators

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Undercounter Refrigeration

Whether it's being used in a hotel room, behind the bar in a restaurant, or near the cash register at a café, undercounter refrigeration can create additional cold storage for beverages and ingredients in layouts without much vertical space.

  • Best for adding cold storage in a small space
  • Available with doors or drawers
  • ADA-compliant models available

Like their larger counterparts, undercounter refrigerators are available with one, two, and three sections. Three-section undercounter refrigerators can be more than 6 feet long and are useful additions to a prep area or work station that enable cooks keep necessary ingredients stored nearby and at food-safe temperatures. One- and two-section undercounter refrigerators can also be used to create cold storage for existing layouts in restaurants and other foodservice operations.

Undercounter refrigeration with a single section is frequently used in hotel rooms, hospitals and doctors' offices, break rooms, and other commercial businesses that need to offer a small amount of refrigerated storage space for beverages and temperature-sensitive snacks, including soda, water, and chocolate.

As with many types of refrigeration, undercounter models may have drawers or swing doors. Drawers are most often found on units installed in food prep applications since they hold food pans. Undercounter refrigerators used in customer-facing applications are more likely to have swing doors, which can be opened to display a full view of the contents stored in the cabinet. If your unit will be used in a merchandising capacity, such as holding bottled beverages for sale by the check-out counter, you may want to buy a unit with glass doors so passersby can see what's inside.

When purchasing an undercounter refrigerator, it's important to know the height of your existing counter because it will determine the height of the unit you need to purchase. To be compliant with ADA standards, your undercounter refrigerator should be 32 inches tall in order to fit under a 34-inch counter.

Glass Door Merchandisers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Glass Door Merchandiser

Popular in convenience stores, grocery stores, and other businesses that sell canned and bottled beverages and packaged food items, glass door merchandisers help operators market grab-and-go drinks to potential customers.

  • Best for merchandising bottled and canned beverages
  • Choose between swing and sliding doors
  • Illuminated signage markets products to passersby

Locations that offer chilled drinks or need to keep perishable goods at food-safe temperatures may install glass door merchandisers to hold milk, juice, soda, water, and beer, as well as butter, eggs, cheese, and other packaged foods.

Glass door merchandisers are available in one to three sections, but after considering how much space is available in your layout, you may want to size your unit by the number of shelves your operation requires. Depending on unit size, each section may come standard with three or four shelves that are usually adjustable for custom organization and to accommodate tall items. Because a wide variety of items might be stored, shelves are often rated by weight rather than number of items, but looking at the shelf dimensions can also help you get an idea of how much can be stored on each shelf.

If you are purchasing a glass door merchandiser with two or three sections, you may want to choose a unit with sliding doors rather than doors that swing open. This design can be especially beneficial in layouts that have narrow aisles, as it improves traffic flow.

In order to market your products to customers, glass door merchandisers usually have a bright white interior and illuminated signage on the top of the unit. This signage may advertise something similar to, "Cold Drinks," but can often be customized to fit your business, location, or product.

Open-air Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Open Air Coolers

Open-air merchandisers don't have a door to separate customers from their impulse purchases, so they are perfect for housing grab-and-go items, such as prepared salads and sandwiches, bottled and canned beverages, and fresh fruit.

  • Best for merchandising grab-and-go products
  • Vertical and horizontal models available
  • Choose between self-contained and remote compressors

Merchandising your grab-and-go products with open-air coolers can increase sales since customers don't have the extra step of opening a door to retrieve products they may be considering. This setup is popular in bakeries, cafes, delis, grocery stores, and other businesses that offer prepared or prepackaged snacks, meals, and drinks.

There are two main types of open-air merchandisers to choose from: horizontal and vertical. As their names suggest, horizontal open-air coolers tend to be wider and shorter than vertical open-air coolers. Because they offer more upright storage, vertical open-air coolers tend to offer more display levels than their horizontal counterparts. Both designs are meant to be installed against a wall.

A third type of open-air cooler, called an island or display island, provides 360 degrees of access. These units are designed to be placed in the center of a layout rather than against the wall, but because they offer double the access, they are often twice as expensive as one-sided vertical or horizontal units.

Although most open-air merchandisers have self-contained refrigeration systems, some models are available with remote compressors. This refrigeration system muffles noise and lowers heat production, which may be an advantage in small layouts and for operations with a large number of refrigerated displays.

Back Bar Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Back Bar Cooler

Whether you're operating a neighborhood pub or an upscale lounge, a back bar cooler will keep bottles and cans of beer and wine chilled to help bartenders conveniently serve thirsty patrons.

  • Best for bottled and canned beverages behind the bar
  • Glass-door units are perfect for merchandising beverages
  • Many models include a stainless steel countertop

This type of commercial refrigeration is similar to undercounter refrigerators, except back bar coolers are designed specifically to hold beverages in bottles and cans. They most commonly have two or three sections, although models with one and four sections are available. Each of these sections is generally 24 inches wide and can accommodate approximately 144 bottles, so you should consider how many bottles or cans you need chilled each day or night to determine what size back bar cooler your business needs.

Because back bar coolers are meant to be installed in customer-facing areas, they're more aesthetically pleasing than undercounter refrigerators. Many models are constructed of aluminum or stainless steel but have a black vinyl or powder-coated finish to give them a sleek visual appeal. This attractive finish can be less durable than unfinished stainless steel since the black coating can eventually chip or peel.

Back bar coolers are also commonly designed with glass doors, which provides two important advantages: acting as a merchandiser to thirsty customers who can see what an establishment offers and enabling employees to see what's in stock without opening the doors.

Since many commercial bar refrigerators are equipped with a countertop, they offer versatile installation options and can even be installed freestanding if no counter is available.

Bottle Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Bottle Coolers

Another type of commercial bar refrigeration meant to keep bottles and cans at ideal serving temperatures, bottle coolers are a great option for applications that don't rely on visual merchandising.

  • Best for chilling bottles and cans when merchandising isn't needed
  • Capacity is sized by number of cases that can be stored
  • Can be cooled by ice or a refrigeration system

While back bar coolers can be accessed through doors on the front of the unit, bottle coolers are accessed from the top and feature a solid metal construction rather than glass. Most bottle coolers include a bottle opener and cap catcher built onto the front of the unit, but because these coolers can also be used with cans, this feature is usually removable. A bottle opener helps speed up the process of opening and serving beverages while disposing of the leftover caps.

Although they have between one and four access doors and accompanying interior dividers, bottle coolers aren't sized by section numbers. Instead, this type of commercial refrigeration is sized based on capacity, which is measured by how many 12-ounce bottles or cans it can hold. This capacity may be measured in total number of beer cases the unit can hold, with one case being equal to about 24 beers.

The majority of bottle coolers have self-contained refrigeration systems, but operators who need to cool bottles in locations without access to electricity have an additional option. Ice well bottle coolers rely on large quantities of ice to keep bottled beverages chilled rather than a refrigeration system. These coolers can usually hold a few hundred bottles at once and must be drained when the ice has melted.

Chef Bases

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Chef Bases

Designed with a worktop surface and refrigerated base, chef bases can be used to create a food prep station that improves workflow and enables cooks to safely store ingredients.

  • Best for keeping ingredients near related equipment
  • Marine edge helps contain spills and prevent messes
  • Stores a variety of ingredients with independent temperature controls

In busy commercial kitchens, setting up a chef base work station can streamline workflow and help cooks quickly complete tasks to improve service for hungry customers. Chef bases can support griddles, fryers, mixers, slicers, and other food prep and cooking equipment. The refrigerated base keeps perishable ingredients like meat, vegetables, frozen foods, and dairy products properly stored and within arm's reach rather than sitting in non-refrigerated areas and risking contamination.

In order to contain spills or liquids that may drip onto the top surface, many chef bases come standard with marine edges. Also known as a no-drip edge, models with this feature have raised trim along the top edge to prevent fluids from dripping onto the floor, maintaining cleanliness and safety in a commercial kitchen.

Chef bases are equipped with drawers rather than doors, but the length of the unit will determine how many drawers each base has. Each drawer is sized to hold a number of full-size or fractional food pans that may be 4 to 6 inches deep, depending on the model. Some chef bases offer independent controls, so some drawers can be used as refrigerated storage and others can be used as frozen storage. For establishments using a chef base to support a countertop fryer, a combination of refrigerated and freezer drawers can facilitate the slacking process, where frozen food is gradually thawed before cooking.

Worktop Refrigerators

Types of Commercial Refrigeration: Worktop Refrigerators

Worktop refrigerators feature a durable countertop above a refrigerated base to create a freestanding work station.

  • Best for establishing a prep station to improve work flow
  • Choose between a base with doors or drawers
  • Consider models with specialty options to improve functionality

Although this commercial refrigeration equipment may resemble chef bases and undercounter refrigerators, it is not designed to handle heavy food prep or cooking equipment and is not meant to go under an existing countertop. Worktop refrigerators are a great option for commercial kitchens in need of additional work space and refrigerated storage since they can be installed independent of a countertop.

Like other types of refrigeration equipment, worktop refrigerators can have one, two, or three sections and may be more than 96 inches (8 feet) long, so it's important to ensure you're buying a unit that fits in your available space.

Because one of the biggest decisions when choosing a worktop refrigerator is whether you want a base with drawers or doors, the items you're preparing can help you choose which model will best meet your needs. As with other commercial refrigeration equipment, drawers are meant to be used with food pans, so they are great for storing ingredients that have already been chopped, diced, and sliced. A base accessed by doors provides a place for jars, jugs, and other containers to be stored on adjustable shelves.

Worktop refrigerators are available with a variety of options to improve their functionality and performance. Many models have a backsplash measuring between 3 and 4 inches tall to help contain splashes and prevent tools from falling behind the unit. Some may also be built with ADA compliance in mind.

Drop-in Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Drop-in Coolers

To choose the right type of drop-in refrigeration, it's important to know whether you need to display bottled beverages and packaged snacks, keep produce cool, or chill dense products.

  • Best for merchandising packaged items or chilling produce and condiments
  • Choose between three types of refrigeration systems
  • Can be permanently installed in a countertop

To keep certain products cool, drop-in units may use ice or refrigeration systems that rely on cold walls or forced-air refrigeration. After they are filled with ice, these units provide a place where bottled beverages and packaged snacks can be chilled and displayed. These models are often used in locations that are accessible to customers, so they can see what's available and choose the items they wish to purchase.

Cold-wall drop-ins and forced-air drop-ins both use refrigeration systems but create different types of refrigeration. The walls of cold-wall units are filled with refrigerant tubes that directly cool the items being held, so cold-wall drop-ins are recommended for cooling dense products, such as cheese or salad dressings. However, forced-air drop-ins are better suited for more delicate items, including fruits and vegetables, because forced-air refrigeration creates and maintains a consistent blanket of cold air.

Both types of drop-in coolers should be used with food pans, which usually sit on a recess to protect them from ambient temperatures. These units are often installed in back-of-house prep areas or customer-accessible buffet areas. No matter which type of drop-in cooler you choose, it should be installed in a countertop with a cutout that is narrower than the unit's dimensions. This placement enables the flanges of the drop-in rest on the countertop while the bulk of the unit drops into the hole.

Similar to drop-ins, frost tops sit flush with the counter and cool products placed on top. These units are great in a retail environment or serving line where you'll be holding packaged items.

Countertop Refrigerators

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Countertop Refrigerators

Whether they're in an office break room or functioning as a merchandiser to increase impulse sales, countertop refrigerators are compact units that can be added to nearly any existing countertop space.

  • Best for most countertop refrigeration needs
  • A variety of features to suit any application
  • Some models offer pass-thru access

Compact refrigerators have multiple applications in the foodservice industry and other commercial settings. For example, operators of convenience stores, delis, or gas stations may want to give guests the option of purchasing a refreshing beverage without investing in the system required to offer fountain drinks. Countertop units can also be used to refrigerate packaged grab-and-go items. In small offices, they provide cold storage where employees can keep beverages and small snacks, and in waiting rooms, they can hold cold bottled drinks for patients.

Because these units are available in a variety of dimensions – with widths ranging from 17 inches to 4 feet – it's important to know where your countertop refrigerator will be installed prior to purchase. Most units are tall enough to include at least two adjustable shelves, providing multiple storage levels that can accommodate items of various heights. Take note of installation requirements for the model you choose, including its specific electrical requirements and side and rear clearance.

If a unit is wide enough, it may have sliding doors rather than swinging doors, which can be beneficial if the refrigerator will open into a narrow walkway. You may want to choose a pass-thru unit if your countertop refrigerator will be installed in a location connecting a customer-facing area with an employee area. This setup, which enables employees to restock the refrigerator from behind a service counter or display area, can be useful in applications offering prepared foods.

Draft Beer Systems

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Draft Beer Systems

Restaurant and bar operators who want to serve cold draft beer should invest in a beer dispenser, which dispenses chilled beer directly from kegs hidden inside the cabinet base.

  • Best for serving cold beer straight from the keg
  • Models can hold between one and five kegs
  • Largest units have 12 taps

Whether you're serving domestic beer or local craft brews, offering guests draft beer that has been properly chilled can improve their satisfaction and experience. Because kegs can easily be swapped out with a different beer once they are emptied, investing in a beer dispensing system can provide a rotating selection of fresh beer that keeps customers coming back.

When purchasing a draft beer system, you have several different configurations to choose from. Some models have just one tap and can be used with a half keg, which is great for businesses that want to offer draft beer but don't need a larger system, such as a caterer supplying beverages for a special event. On the other end of the spectrum, restaurants and bars with high-volume serving needs might choose a system with 12 taps that can hold four kegs.

However, most draft beer systems have one or two tap columns and between one and four taps. These models can usually hold two, three, or four kegs, but some can hold a fifth keg. Installing a draft beer system with extra space for kegs enables you to keep an additional keg of your most popular beer in the cabinet, cutting down on serving time that may be lost when retrieving a new keg.

Commercial Wine Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Commercial Wine Coolers

Storing reds and whites in a commercial wine merchandiser can elevate any restaurant or bar's wine program.

  • Best for storing wines at optimal temperatures
  • Dual-zone models accommodate multiple wine types
  • Meet any capacity requirement with full-size and compact models

Although it can be tempting to keep wines in the extra storage space in your reach-in refrigerator or walk-in cooler, different types of wines should be stored and served at higher temperatures than food and other perishables. Investing in a commercial wine cooler enables you to store wines at temperatures that will improve the beverage's taste when it is served.

Many restaurants, bars, and hotels offer guests a choice of red, white, and even sparkling wines, which should all be served at different temperatures. The recommended serving temperature for red wines is between 53 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit, while white wine should be served at a temperature between 44 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Sparkling wines have the coolest recommended serving temperature, ranging between 38 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. To accommodate these different wines, you may need to choose a dual-zone wine cooler with two sections and independent temperature controls.

Commercial wine merchandisers are available in full-size floor models or in compact undercounter sizes. Full-size models can hold as many as 200 bottles of wine, so they are a great option for operations with extensive wine selections. If your wine inventory is more modest, undercounter wine coolers hold just 20 bottles of wine and can easily fit under an existing countertop.

Bakery Display Cases

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Bakery Display Cases

Whether you operate a small family-owned coffee shop or a busy cake company, bakery display cases are an essential merchandising tool.

  • Best for displaying perishable baked goods
  • Choose between full-service or self-serve configurations
  • May be designed with dual temperature zones

In addition to knowing how wide, deep, and tall your bakery display case should be, you will need to consider how your business is laid out. These cases may be configured for full service, meaning they can be accessed only from the employee-facing side, or self-service, which enables customers to select their baked goods from one side while employees replenish items from the other. These units are ideal for grocery stores, convenience stores, cafeteria setups, and other operations that serve a high product volume and rely on quick service. For cafés, dessert shops, and restaurants offering a selection of baked goods, full-service display cases are the most popular choice.

If your menu includes cakes and pies as well as non-perishable goods such as doughnuts and bread, you may wish to invest in a unit that offers two parts: one with refrigeration and one without. These models usually have two separate areas arranged into top and bottom or left and right sections. Additionally, some display cases may have an open bottom section to cool canned and bottled beverages, which is especially useful for cafés serving light meals.

You'll also need to decide between aesthetic features like straight or curved glass and the type of finish. The majority of refrigerated display cases have curved glass, giving the unit a more modern look; however, units with straight glass are usually less expensive. Bakery display cases frequently feature a black or white finish, but they may also have a simple stainless steel exterior.

Deli Cases

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Deli Cases

Any establishment serving meat, cheese, prepared sandwiches, and other deli classics should invest in deli cases to display and refrigerate these products.

  • Best for displaying meat, cheese, and other deli items
  • Available in full- or self-service designs
  • Choose from a number of specialty options

Deli cases keep food refrigerated at safe temperatures while enticing potential customers to make a purchase. These cases can hold cuts of meat and slices or blocks of cheese, prepared meals, or snacks. Deli cases are equally suited for operation in large grocery stores and small businesses.

These refrigerated display cases are available for installation in full-service and self-service setups. Full-service deli cases can only be accessed by doors on the employee-facing side of the unit, enabling employees to restock and retrieve items. Self-service deli cases can be accessed from both the front and back of the unit, so customers can choose their own items while employees replenish products.

Deli cases may have between one and four display levels to accommodate a variety of production volumes. Like bakery cases, deli cases are available with straight glass for a traditional look or more modern curved glass designs. They may also have opaque side panels for installation beside counters and walls or glass side panels that make products visible from any angle.

For businesses requiring a multipurpose unit, you may wish to choose a dual zone – or hybrid – deli case, which can have hot and cold sections or refrigerated and non-refrigerated sections.

As with any refrigeration equipment, take into account the width and depth of the space you need to fill as well as any installation requirements the unit may need, such as front and rear clearance.

Sushi Cases

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Sushi Display Cases

Sushi is a popular specialty item, and if your restaurant offers it, you'll need to choose sushi cases that suit your layout and operational needs.

  • Best for merchandising prepared sushi
  • Refrigeration system may be on the left or right
  • Removable food plates facilitate cleaning

Sushi is a specialty food that must be skillfully prepared with quality ingredients. When prepared correctly, the bite-sized rolls have different textures and bright, naturally enticing colors. Because it is such a visually appealing food, it's important to keep sushi displayed on countertops and other places it can be seen by potential customers. Keeping sushi in a display case made specifically for that purpose will help prevent the quality of the product from degrading and ensure it is not contaminated by airborne particles or unsanitary contact from browsing customers.

As with any piece of commercial refrigeration equipment, you should determine how much room is available in your layout before purchase. When sizing your sushi display case, you'll need to account for the refrigeration system mounted on either the left or right side of the unit, taking away between 12 and 18 inches from the size of the unit's display area. These cases need to be plugged into an appropriate electrical outlet and usually require a certain amount of clearance on the back and sides, impacting where they can be placed in your business.

Most sushi cases have the same basic shape – wider than they are deep and outfitted with glass fronts for merchandising – but specific designs vary by manufacturer. For example, sushi display cases may have aluminum or stainless steel exteriors, LED lights to illuminate products, rear sliding doors for access, and removable plastic trays that sit along the bottom of the interior to facilitate cleaning. Although they generally have a temperature range of 34 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, these units aren't meant for overnight or long-term storage.

Milk Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Milk Coolers

Designed to keep hundreds of milk cartons properly chilled, milk coolers can be found in school cafeterias around the world.

  • Best for keeping cartons of milk chilled
  • Size your unit by required crate capacity
  • Variety of door options for any workflow

Milk is a popular lunchtime beverage for students of all ages, and milk coolers can be found in virtually any school cafeteria. These units hold milk crates, which can be stacked on top of each other over the heavy-duty racks that protect the floor. Milk coolers are sized by how many milk crates can be accommodated, with each milk crate holding as many as 64 half-pint cartons. Because of this system, the best way to decide which model is most suited to your needs is to consider how many milk cartons you will store at one time.

Milk coolers are available with a number of access options, meaning one is likely suitable for your operation's workflow. Standard models have lids on the top of the unit that users can reach into to retrieve milk, but smaller patrons can have difficulty retrieving items. To ensure all customers can reach into the unit, some models have side doors as well. Milk coolers with doors on both sides can serve two lines of guests at once.

Although school lunch service is their most common application, operators of restaurants and cafes may benefit from installing a milk cooler in their back-of-house areas to cool dairy products, especially if several dairy items are on their menu or if they offer milk cartons for children to drink. Additionally, bars serving large amounts of bottled or canned macrobrews can use milk coolers to keep those beverages refrigerated at the "ice cold" temperature customers expect.

Glass Chillers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Glass Chillers

Using a glass chiller to frost your mugs can elevate your guests' experience.

  • Best for chilling glasses before serving beer
  • Capacity ranges from 76 to 286 mugs
  • Unit is accessible from the top or front

Glass chillers hold mugs and other beer glasses at around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, giving them an appealing frosted exterior that elevates the appearance of your restaurant or bar's beer presentation and your customers' experience.

In addition to considering the unit size your layout can accommodate, you should size your glass chiller by the number of glasses you need to keep chilled. Glass chillers are available in capacities ranging from 76 to 286 mugs, an estimate generally calculated based on 10-ounce mugs, so the number of mugs your unit can hold may fluctuate if you are serving beer in other glass sizes.

Glass chillers may be accessed from the top or through a front swinging door. While compact underbar glass chillers may use a front door, most units are floor models with a top lid. Depending on the size you choose, your unit may have one or two sections with one lid each. Units with two sections and two separate lids may improve workflow in busy bars where more than one bartender is retrieving glasses at once.

You will also need to choose between two popular finishes: stainless steel and black laminate. Stainless steel is a durable material that may hold up well in hectic commercial environments, but black laminate is generally the more economical option.

Blast Chillers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Blast Chillers

Capable of rapidly pulling food down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in just a few hours, blast chillers are an important food safety tool.

  • Best for rapidly chilling food
  • Units capable of holding between 3 and 40 pans
  • Countertop, undercounter, and floor models available

Although blast chillers rapidly bring food temperatures down, many models offer both chilling and freezing functionality. Chilling food brings it to recommended refrigerated temperatures around 37 degrees Fahrenheit, but freezing food brings its temperature down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blast chilling should be used to rapidly chill food before it goes into a reach-in refrigerator or walk-in cooler; putting warm food in a refrigerator can overwork the system, and leaving food out to cool down at room temperature can be unsafe. Blast freezing quickly brings food to frozen temperatures, so the product can be stored for several days then reheated later. This method can be especially useful for dining halls, catering operations, and restaurants that need to prepare large quantities of food ahead of time.

In order to properly size your blast chiller, you'll need to take into account how many pans you need the unit to hold at one time. Blast chillers have capacities ranging from 3 to 40 full-size pans, so models are available to accommodate low- and high-volume operations. Additionally, blast chillers are available in countertop, undercounter, and floor models, so you should be able to find one that fits both your needs and kitchen space. Because they're larger, floor models generally offer a greater capacity than undercounter or countertop models.

Medical Refrigerators

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Medical Refrigerators

Medical refrigerators are designed for laboratory, medical, and scientific use, although some may be designated for general-purpose storage.

  • Best for storing medicine and lab samples
  • Units include a green-dot plug for use in hospital facilities
  • Choose from refrigerator, freezer, and dual models

These specialty refrigerators look similar to other types of refrigeration, with a choice of white, black, or metal exteriors; glass or solid doors; and undercounter or floor model sizes. However, medical refrigerators are equipped with a green-dot plug, also known as a Hospital Grade plug. This plug meets the standards required for places such as healthcare facilities, hospitals, science institutions, and laboratories, where sensitive materials and samples may be stored.

Although they may be installed in hospital facilities, not all medical refrigerators are restricted to storing medical supplies. Some are certified to NSF 7 standards for food storage, and others are recommended for general purpose, including bottled beverages and packaged snacks kept in a break room.

In addition to medical refrigerators, you may choose between medical freezers or dual models that offer the functionality of both a refrigerator and a freezer. Some models have specialty options, such as a locking mechanism that ensures item safety or a temperature alarm that helps ensure more delicate items remain stored at the appropriate temperature.

Floral Coolers

Types of Refrigeration Illustration: Floral Coolers

Floral coolers are specifically engineered to display fresh-cut flowers in optimal conditions.

  • Best for displaying fresh flowers
  • Provides a cool environment to extend flower life
  • Not suitable for storing food and beverages

In order to extend the lifespan of flowers being displayed in supermarkets and specialty stores, floral cases hold fresh-cut flowers in temperatures that can be set between 33 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Because these units are available with one, two, or three sections, floral coolers are available for small and large businesses.

As with other types of refrigeration, these units can be accessed by swinging doors or, if the unit has multiple sections, sliding doors. Sliding doors can be beneficial for businesses that need to install a floral case in an area with a slim aisle since the door does not open out into the walkway. These units are usually designed with glass doors and opaque sides and backs, but a specialty option is available with four glass sides that ensure the flowers can be seen from any direction.

This type of commercial refrigeration is suitable only for flowers and plants and should not be used to store food or beverages of any kind.