Fresh-Food Safety Depends On Reliable Refrigeration

by Travis Scola
Posted On: 9/24/2019

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Travis Scola

With people looking for fresher and healthier food options from vending machines and micromarkets, maintaining food safety has never been more important. The array of foods people expect to find is growing, increasing the need for a cold chain that is maintained from production to transportation to its final spot in a micromarket.

Bacteria found in food can double in number every 10 minutes, given the right conditions. This means that 1,000 bacteria can grow to become 1 million in just over one and a half hours. To avoid any food safety issues, having a fleet of reliable, well-maintained refrigeration and freezer units that offer temperature stability and state-of-the-art monitoring technology is essential to ensure the cold chain is never disrupted.

With refrigerated merchandisers, keeping food fresh and safe depends on three main safeguards: regular cleaning and maintenance, proper air circulation, and having a reliable temperature monitor to safeguard against spoilage. 

Regular Cleaning

The importance of regular cleaning can’t be understated: this is also when cleaners can inspect the units to make certain that there is no damage to the interior or to the all-important gaskets that ensure the doors are sealed properly when closed, so there is no cold air escaping. 

Make sure there are no gaps or tears, or buildup of dirt or grease, that can cause air leakage. Cleaning the interior with soap and water on a regular basis should also include wiping the door gaskets and glass. Remember to make sure that all cleaning materials are cleaned and stored between jobs, so bacteria aren’t transferred from one surface to another, and keep cleaning equipment for refrigeration units separate from that used for floors or other equipment in the store.

Air Flow

When installing units, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to keep the air circulation around the unit in check. This includes avoiding installation near equipment that radiates heat or produces a lot of airborne oil and grime that can build up on condensers. With conventional condensers, it’s important to establish a monthly cleaning schedule since a failing condenser can overwork the motor, and can cause breakdowns if left unchecked. Some units, like those we manufacture at Minus Forty, are built with low-maintenance condensers that just require a visual inspection annually. The unique spiral design doesn’t become clogged like coils do, so there is almost no maintenance other than regular checks.

Temperature Management

In an environment where doors are being opened and closed dozens of times each day, it’s imperative to have a unit that is monitored to maintain optimal temperatures and ensure that food spoilage is kept to a minimum. For instance, chilled foods such as microwavable meals and sandwiches should be kept below 46°F.; between 37°F. to 41°F. is ideal.

Temperature variations could potentially contribute to many of the threats posed to food safety throughout the supply chain, including bacteria and other pathogens , including those introduced by cross-contamination. Traditional efforts to manage and monitor temperatures were manual, with periodic temperature readings noted in a ledger.

Hours could pass between scheduled manual checks, and a spike in temperature could go unnoticed until the next check was done. But with the advent of automated temperature management systems, like the National Automatic Merchandising Association-approved Smartlock, operators now have a higher degree of confidence that their food is being maintained at a safe temperature.

A “smartlock” food health monitor is a built-in device that alerts retail managers to a change in refrigerator or freezer temperature that could jeopardize the state of the food. If the temperature rises above a pre-set temperature point for a pre-set period, the unit automatically locks the door preventing access to potentially hazardous food. The door can be unlocked for food inspection, but in the meantime, customers have not been sold any spoiled product. 

Health concerns are of utmost importance for vending machine operators, along with food spoilage and waste. Considering the cost of malfunctioning equipment in lost sales, repairs, labor and downtime, not to mention the reputational damage that spoiled product can cause, establishing regular cleaning and maintenance routines is critical. Purchasing high-quality freezers and refrigerators equipped with self-cleaning condensers, digital thermostats and food safety locks will go a long way to protecting the integrity of the perishable products you sell.

Tech tip: If your cooler or freezer is provided with a restocking mode, such as the one Minus Forty units feature, be sure to use this option when restocking the unit. It will help to reduce the number of false/nuisance lockouts caused by restocking with the door open for extended periods of time.

CLEAN, CHILLED AND WORKING: Fresh-food safety depends on close control of temperature, from delivery through preparation, holding, transport to final sale. Modern coolers with Smartlock health switch (top right) and temperature monitor simplify this process, given thorough maintenance that emphasizes cleanliness and integrity of door seals.