Spec Check: Roll-in Refrigerators

Part of the reach-in category, roll-in refrigerators provide enhanced versatility in the kitchen. In most cases, these units are designed to accommodate carts containing food pans.

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It is easy to take equipment like roll-in refrigerators for granted since minimal interaction is required with users, other than opening and closing the door. However, because these units operate 24/7 keeping food at safe temperatures, roll-in refrigerators shoulder a heavy burden in foodservice operations.

In terms of applications, foodservice operators use roll-in refrigerators to store a variety of perishable foods, including meat, produce, eggs, dairy products and condiments, ideally at 38 degrees F.

Roll-ins must hold foods consistently at 40 degrees F. or below, as specified by Hazard Analysis Critical Central Points (HACCP) requirements, and must be able to recover temperatures quickly, even when doors are continuously opened and closed.

Although these units are typically the same size or larger than a traditional reach-in refrigerator, roll-ins provide operators with a great deal of storage space and flexibility. These units are classified by size, or specifically by internal cubic capacity and how many pans can be held at one time.

In addition, the size of a facility, style of food preparation and production demand levels will help determine the operation's requirements for roll-in refrigeration. Specifically, foodservice operators need to figure out how often staff will load and unload the unit to get an idea of the volume the facility will need to accommodate.

High-volume operations often specify roll-in refrigerators to increase efficiency and speed of service. Cook-chill operations often include these units, too. After food is cooked and blast chilled, staff can place it in pans and store it in a roll-in unit until needed.

Operators commonly place these refrigeration units adjacent to prep areas to conveniently hold cold items that have been transferred from a more remotely located walk-in refrigerator.

The biggest misconception with this equipment is that foodservice operators can use it to bring down the temperature of cooked food. These refrigerators are designed to hold food that is already chilled but hot food should never be placed in these units, or food safety will be compromised. Items with internal temperatures of 160 degrees F that are stored in a roll-in refrigerator run the risk of instigating pathogen growth.

For operators seeking to cool down food quickly and safely, roll-in blast chillers are available that conform with HACCP requirements. However, like roll-in refrigerators, these blast chillers are geared for short-term holding.
Roll-in refrigerators are available with either a self-contained compressor or a remote compressor. While self-contained types work well in small- and medium-sized operations, remote systems are more often used in large-scale environments, such as in retail businesses or hospitals.

Another key factor to consider when buying a roll-in is the intended application of the unit. If a foodservice operator intends to use this unit on a production line, staff will open its doors frequently, which means the roll-in will need to feature low air velocity or high humidity to prevent foods from drying out.

Roll-ins are available with either solid or glass doors. The number of doors needed depends on the volume of the operation. The higher the volume, the more doors needed. For easiest access, door hinging should be based on the application. For operations with limited space, 180-degree doors facilitate easier loading of pans and carts.

Depending on the operation, it may be worthwhile to specify a roll-in unit that offers the flexibility of field reversible doors. This makes the unit more versatile in the event that the operator needs to relocate it to a different spot in the kitchen or another off-site location.

The number of doors impacts the refrigeration requirements. For example, while a one-door unit typically requires only a single ½-hp compressor, a two-door roll-in will need a ¾-hp compressor and a three-door unit requires a 1-hp compressor. Four-door units rely on a pair of ¾-hp compressors.

Food safety in terms of the roll-in's application also is an important factor. When specifying, the unit's temperature maintenance and recovery time in relation to its application should be considered. Operators must ensure that the refrigeration system is adequately sized for the amount and type of product as well as the usage.

When choosing a roll-in, operators need to determine how many pans of food they will need to hold at one time and the cart size they need that will be used to hold the pans.

Roll-ins can accommodate carts from 54 inches high up to 85 inches high. For reference, a 64-inch cart can hold 20 pans, while a 75- or 79-inch cart will fit between 30 and 35 pans. While retail operations generally use 72-inch racks, standard roll-ins accommodate a 66-inch rack, which is easier to transport within a facility.

Because roll-in sizes vary, operators need to understand how much floor space is available for the unit. It's important that all space constraints are taken into consideration. For example, there should be adequate room for the refrigeration unit to get into the building through door openings and around tight corners, in addition to fitting into its designated kitchen space.

In terms of placement, like with all equipment of this type, there needs to be adequate ventilation to exhaust the refrigeration system's heat.

Though roll-in refrigerator exteriors are typically stainless steel, operators can also select stainless steel or food-safe anodized aluminum interiors. Units with durable hinging and solid floors will stand up to heavy use.

Roll-in units typically feature electro-mechanical controls or run by self-diagnosing microprocessors. These units generally utilize 20 to 30 pounds of rigid or foamed-in-place polyurethane insulation to help maintain interior temperatures.

All reach-ins, including roll-ins, use a compressor, evaporator coil and evaporator fans for cooling. Unless utilizing a remote system, roll-ins will have a top- mount compressor because the bottom of the unit is reserved for the ramp needed to accommodate the carts.

When specifying, cabinet electrical power requirements and available supply also should be considered. Roll-in refrigerators operate on 115V of electrical power, but larger three-door units may require 208V to 230V.

Pass-thru roll-in units are available and most often found in school applications. With these units, stability is a factor and should be verified for safe use. Some types can be used as standalone units while others need to be situated within a wall opening, which helps stabilize the roll-in for two-sided use. When these models are utilized as part of a serving line, product can be stocked from one side of the roll-in and distributed on the other side. This can help decrease labor, as staff is not constantly visiting the walk-in to stock up on products.
When specifying a roll-in, certifications for ambient kitchens are an important factor to note. For units certified to 80 degrees F, there may be an issue if operators place them by cooking equipment. The need to open the doors a significant number of times represents another critical factor because doing so frequently may compromise the interior temperature consistency. In terms of food safety, the roll-in's interior temperature should not exceed 41 degrees F.

Operators also should verify the service support and warranty offered by the manufacturer prior to purchasing the unit. Because replacing refrigeration systems is expensive, operators should confirm that the warranty is comprehensive. It may be worthwhile to consider features that help minimize service costs, such as microprocessors.

New technology has been introduced to help secure temperatures inside roll-ins. The unit can be connected with a Wi-Fi or Gateway system to notify the operator by phone, e-mail or text message if proper temperatures are not being met, preventative maintenance is needed or if there is a power outage.

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Saving Energy and Money

For those with an eye on the bottom line as well as the environment, there are now more roll-in refrigerators that fit the bill.

Operators looking to save energy and money over time can choose a unit that is Energy Star rated.

These roll-ins are approximately 30 percent more energy efficient than standard models, saving between 590 and 730 kWh per year, depending on the model. This adds up to $60 to $70 annual savings or a lifetime savings totaling between $560 and $700.

In addition to cost savings, other benefits include uniform cabinet temperatures, reduced heat output due to a more efficient compressor system and fan motor, and an extended service life.

Energy Star features that could potentially save energy include improved insulation and components, such as high-efficiency compressors and motors; improved coil designs; variable speed fans; improved fan blade designs; anti-sweat heaters; improved gaskets; and more efficient interior lighting.

These roll-ins are available with solid, glass, and mixed solid/glass doors.

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