Commercial Milk Cooler Buyers' Guide
Milk: the classic lunchtime thirst-quencher. It's as nourishing as it is tasty, and it's been central to school nutrition programs for generations. If you're in charge of choosing a school milk cooler for a school or a similar institution, you'll want to be sure to choose one that will meet your needs in terms of volume and how the equipment is accessed by the end user.
Will your new school milk cooler be accessed by younger, elementary school children, older middle and high school kids, or by members of foodservice staff? The answer to that question will determine whether a top-accessed or a side-accessed milk cooler is the best choice.
Sliding lids cover the tops of top-accessed coolers, locking in cold air when they're closed. The user reaches into the equipment through that opening to retrieve milk cartons. Since the average height of a top-access cooler is around 34 inches, adults and older children are comfortable accessing them, but younger children may have trouble reaching their milk, especially when cartons aren't stacked all the way to the top. For that reason, a top-accessed milk cooler is best installed behind service lines in elementary schools and in settings where children are tall enough to reach milk from the top.
If your lunch line is set up to allow children to help themselves to cartons of milk, you'll likely prefer a side-accessed commercial milk cooler. Insulated, hinged panels conceal the cooler's contents until staff members fold them down at service time. With those panels open, milk can be presented at a much more comfortable height for children than what's offered by top-accessed units. A dual-sided, side-accessed school milk cooler can serve two school lunch lines simultaneously. Install one between the two lines and children will be able to help themselves to cartons of milk from either side. These can also be installed in a wall between a kitchen or walk-in cooler and the serving line to allow for easy loading of milk as it's depleted.
School Milk Cooler Refrigeration Systems
School milk coolers are designed to hold milk just above freezing temperature, between 33 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit, in a range that keeps the milk fresh and safe for the longest possible length of time without freezing it. To help you verify that the equipment is holding milk at those temperatures, each cooler includes a dial thermometer or a digital temperature readout to let you keep an eye on the cooler's internal temperature. That means there's no excuse for letting milk drift out of the safe temperature zone.
There are two ways to cool a milk cooler. The first is with forced-air refrigeration, the method that's employed by the majority of milk coolers and other refrigerated equipment. In these units, a fan or series of fans circulates air within the equipment cabinet over an evaporator coil that removes heat from air, chilling it and passing those temperatures along to the cabinet's contents.
The second method of cooling a school milk cooler is one commonly employed in food prep tables and other equipment that's designed to hold bulk quantities of dense ingredients: a cold-wall evaporator. Cold-wall systems run refrigerant through tubes embedded directly in the equipment's interior walls. This style of equipment is especially well-suited for cooling dense products like tightly-packed milk cartons.
Equipment that employs cold-wall technology may provide greater storage capacity compared to similarly sized forced-air equipment, because the mechanical components take up less space in their cabinets. That allows a higher volume of cabinet space to be devoted to storing product. Some manufacturers that build coolers with forced-air refrigeration systems allow for that full use of the cabinet space by mounting the entire refrigeration system in the top of the unit, freeing up the majority of the cooler to hold milk.
Milk Cooler Features and Capacities
A standard milk crate measures about a foot square and a little bit taller and is designed to hold four gallons of milk. That translates to a per-crate capacity of 64 half-pint cartons, the most common containers in school nutrition programs. Manufacturers typically state in their equipment specifications how many milk crates each of their models will hold. Top-accessed coolers commonly hold between six and 10 crates of milk, while full-sized, side-accessed coolers accommodate a dozen or more standard-sized crates.
Stainless steel makes a popular material for building commercial restaurant equipment thanks to its corrosion resistance and rugged durability. School milk cooler manufacturers usually build the doors on this equipment from stainless steel, while they often opt to use epoxy-coated steel to finish the rest of the equipment's exterior. Epoxy-coated steel is affordable, attractive, and easy to clean, and it's usually colored white to give the equipment a clean and tidy appearance. For exceptionally busy institutions or environments that place a heavy demand on the equipment, you may consider ordering a commercial milk cooler with an all-stainless steel exterior that will hold up to greater abuse than an epoxy-coated exterior will.
Milk coolers support heavy milk crates on floor racks. These racks are generally made of stainless steel wire and coated in epoxy to resist the wear and tear brought on by the heavy crates. That durability is important because a crate full of milk cartons can weigh more than 30 pounds. Other coolers support crates on more heavy-duty dunnage racks. Each type is equally important for its role in allowing cold air to circulate freely around crates, cooling all the equipment's contents to consistent temperatures.
Cleanout drains make it easy to drain water and spills from the equipment's interior, so staff can clean the cooler with a hose or a bucket of water. The outlets of those drains can be positioned over a floor drain or a bucket so that wastewater can be disposed of properly.