Two-section Reach-in Refrigerators Buyers' Guide
Commercial refrigeration is essential in any foodservice kitchen, and a two-section reach-in refrigerator is by far the most popular type, offering plenty of cold storage space without taking up too much room. It can serve either as bulk storage or a working box, depending on the features it has and where it is placed.
The first thing you will need to consider is how much storage each commercial refrigerator can offer. Two-section reach-in refrigerators may have as little as 39.6 to as much as 56 cubic feet of storage, which will affect the exterior dimensions as well. Being aware of the model's total size and the available space in the floorplan where it will be installed can avoid sizing issues.
Shelving is another important aspect of storage space. Most models come with three shelves per section, but this will vary for some brands. All commercial refrigerator shelves are adjustable, but the increments to which they can be adjusted vary. If you will be storing lots of pans, you may want to consider getting one or both sections with pan slides instead of shelves.
The installation location of your reach-in refrigerator can help you determine whether you should purchase a model with a top-mounted or bottom-mounted compressor. For hot kitchens, consider a bottom-mounted compressor, which will not have to work as hard as a top-mounted compressor as that heat rises. This type will sometimes require more maintenance than a top-mounted compressor, as the proximity to the floor allows it to draw in more dust and sediment, and makes it subject to damage from passing traffic. However, the location also allows for easier access for service and maintenance, which can make service calls more affordable. Bottom-mounted compressors also have the added benefit of raising the floor of the refrigerator, allowing you to retrieve items from the bottom shelf without stooping.
A top-mounted compressor will usually require less maintenance than a bottom-mounted unit, but because of the location on top of the refrigerator, service calls can take longer and can sometimes require more than one person, which can drive the cost up. However, these are a great option for kitchens that use a lot of flour, which can quickly clog up a bottom-mounted compressor as it settles to the floor. A top-mounted model also often offers more cubic feet of storage, as its position on top next to the fans eliminates the need for lines to run through the back wall of the unit.
Reach-in refrigerators are available with several door options. Solid doors offer superior insulation but do not allow you to see what is inside and will often be held open longer than glass doors. Glass doors, which are often heated to prevent condensation, allow you to see what you need before you open the door; this means they are generally open for a shorter amount of time and less cold air is lost.
Whether you choose solid or glass, you will be able to choose doors that swing or slide open. Swing doors are the most common, but sliding doors can be of great benefit to a kitchen with narrow walkways. Another option available with all of these door types is a pass-thru configuration, which has doors on the front and back of the refrigerator. Some pass-thru models will have different door options available for the front and back to allow you to find the best set-up for your kitchen, though you may need to call and place a special order to get the specific configuration you need.
Reach-in refrigerators can have either full or half doors. Full doors allow you to see the entire section at once, but half doors, also called Dutch doors, limit the amount of cold air that escapes when the door is opened.
The special features available on some commercial refrigeration models can make a big difference in the workflow of your kitchen. A dual-temperature model can allow you to store refrigerated and frozen products in one footprint, while LED lights can provide brighter illumination and allow you to see what you need faster.
Expansion valve models are best to use as working boxes, which are commercial refrigerators that are used to hold frequently-accessed products and are therefore opened often. An expansion valve system recovers temperature faster, helping keep food at safe temperatures even when cold air is lost due to the door being opened constantly. A digital temperature readout on the outside of the refrigerator can help you make sure the food inside is safe, and help you meet HACCP guidelines.
If you will be storing large amounts of pans, you may want to consider a roll-in model, which allows you to roll an entire rack of pans into the refrigerator at once without having to load each pan in individually. Door locks are also an available option that helps keep your product safe.
To help save money on utilities, look for commercial refrigeration with the blue ENERGY STAR logo. These models are tested and certified that they meet the EPA's stringent requirements on energy use, which can save you thousands of dollars over the unit's life.