Open Refrigerated Display Cases

Foodservice operators use open refrigerated display cases to sell a variety of food and beverage items that must remain cool but not frozen. Examples of products these display cases can house include pre-packaged items such as salads and sandwiches and beverages.

Used primarily to merchandise grab and go items, a variety of foodservice operators use open air display cases, including convenience stores, delis, supermarkets, drug stores, colleges and universities, and business and industry, to name but a few.

One of the main benefits of these items is the convenience they provide the customer, who can see and select a product without having to navigate any doors. Of course, that convenience can come with a price in the form of extra electricity required to keep the unit and its content cool when compared to refrigerated glass door merchandisers. So when deciding whether to purchase an open air refrigerated display case, foodservice operators and their supply chain partners need to evaluate if the sales levels the unit will generate will sufficiently offset the extra energy output. In some cases, this form of convenience is non-negotiable for the foodservice operator.

Because open air display units come in various shapes and sizes, it is important to know where the operator intends to place it before making a purchasing decision. For example, if the operator intends to place the unit along a back wall, then perhaps a larger display case may be appropriate. But if the operator plans to showcase items that are considered impulse purchases and wants to place the unit near the front of the store, then a lower profile unit will be more suitable.

In addition, when selecting a place for these units, it is important to identify a location that does not receive direct sunlight or is beneath any heating, ventilation or air conditioning ducts. The additional heat and airflow will result in a disruption of the air curtain circulating throughout the merchandiser, which keeps stored items cool. As a result, the case may not be able to hold food at the safe temperatures of 40 degrees F. Also, to help foodservice operators monitor temperatures, some units have electronic controls while others have built-in thermometers.

Another key factor in deciding where to place an open air refrigerated display case is the availability of a floor drain. Humidity in the air will result in a certain amount of condensation within the unit and it will drip down the inside of the case, resulting in the need for a floor drain. If a floor drain is not available then it is important to specify a unit with an electric condensate evaporator.

As this product category evolves, foodservice equipment manufacturers continue to introduce units in a variety of shapes and sizes with more energy efficient options. For example, some manufacturers offer two-tiered models that feature a glass enclosed display case on the top and a refrigerated open display case on the bottom. In addition to more efficient fan motors, many manufacturers offer night curtains, which allow operators to cover their cases overnight or during non-peak periods to help lower consumption of electricity without compromising temperatures. Also, LED lighting is an option inside some cases, providing a more energy efficient way to illuminate product.

When specifying a refrigerated open air display case, foodservice operators have a growing number of options from which to choose. For example, most manufacturers offer different options for shelf height and depth. Many manufacturers also feature two-position shelving: flat or tilted. To enhance product visibility, particularly in dark areas, some manufacturers offer lighted shelving.

Just like any other type of refrigeration unit, regularly cleaning the condenser coils is critical to a long and efficient service life. Failure to clean the coils will result in the compressor having to work harder and even overheat while trying to cool the open air refrigerated display case.

Signs that a unit might need replacing include the following:

  • Excessive noise or rattling from compressor
  • Failure to hold temperature
  • A more consistent need for maintenance or service calls

If properly maintained, these units can last 15 years or longer. Refrigerated open air display cases operate with an air screen, which is a vent across the front of the unit that directs air to help keep the products cool. For this reason, it is important that the operator keep these areas free of products and debri

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