Making the Grade : Keeping Your Fridges Cold

By NYC Hospitality Alliance

August 1, 2013

You do not want your restaurant to be issued a violation for food that is being stored at an improper temperature.

A brownout or the refrigerator door being opened multiple times during service are not acceptable reasons to a health department inspector/sanitarian for an improperly maintained refrigeration or freezer unit. You will be issued an expensive fine and jeopardize your A-letter grade unless you do your best to keep your units working effectively throughout the hot and humid days of summer.

Tip # 1:  Develop an air temperature monitoring system.  Check the internal air temperature of the front of the refrigeration/freezer unit at least 3 times per day.  This will prevent surprises and allow you to better understand temperature patterns, especially during hours of frequent use.  Don’t wait until the cooler reads 42°F in the morning upon opening because this unit will likely end up at 55°F as the Health Department inspector walks in the door. The recommended air temperature for a refrigeration unit is 38°F and for freezers it is 0°F.

  • Ambient air thermometers should be provided and located in the front of each unit.
  • Reach-in refrigeration units should never be filled with food items in cardboard boxes.  If it’s a bag in a box, a can in a box, or a box in a box, then get rid of the box.
  • Keeping all food items raised 6 inches off the floor will help air circulation and keeps foods at their proper temperatures. There is an added bonus: when the floor/wall junctions are visible, employees will clean the floors completely.
  • Creating a corrective action plan will help reduce anxiety and panic when a refrigeration unit stops working.
  • Ensure that a responsible employee has the contact information of your refrigeration technician.

Tip # 2:  Your team should have the know how to properly stock, maintain and clean your refrigerator and freezer units.  They should also know when to discard potentially hazardous foods held at unsafe temperatures.

  • Shelf liners may look nice and keep the shelves clean, but they block air circulation that helps keep foods at their proper temperature.
  • Shelves have slots for a reason, so remove the tin foil or unnecessary sheet pans.
  • Ensure the interior walls, floors and ceiling of walk-in units are clean and in good condition.
  • Ensure the interior shelving inside all refrigeration and freezer units are clean and in good condition.

Tip # 3:  To ensure that your refrigerator and freezer units are working properly you should ask your refrigeration repair technician the right questions.


  • Are the condensation lines and condenser coils cleaned?
  • Are the compressors charged with gas?
  • Are you replacing the evaporation coils/fins as needed (located in the condensate pans)?
  • Are the rubber door gaskets seals clean and in good condition?
  • Are the air temperatures adjusted to 38°F for refrigeration and 0°F for the freezer?
  • Are the interior light bulbs and light shields in good condition?

Developing a preventative maintenance plan so employees know what steps to take if a unit breaks and teaching them proper stocking and cleaning techniques are ways a restaurant can demonstrate good managerial control.  This will keep your kitchen running smoothly and your customer’s safe and coming back for seconds!

We also recommend enrolling yourself and employees in The Alliance’s Food Protection Course with certification in only 2 1/2  days.  Click here to learn more and view our course schedule.

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