Want an “A” on Your Restaurant Health Inspection? Better Get Up to Speed on Refrigeration Maintenance
NYC Restaurant Letter Grades. You know that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when the NYC health inspector walks into your restaurant? It’s kind of like a moment of imminent danger when your life flashes before your eyes. You instantly see all the things you’ve been meaning to take care of, like the low-boy on your cooking line that’s been running too warm. Then you imagine the potentially catastrophic violations that could come as a total surprise: like having to throw out everything in your self-serve display case because the temperature is too high, and facing a C grade or even the closing of your restaurant because of a Condition V critical violation.
As a restaurant owner or manager, you have so many details to worry about every day. The good news is, there’s a simple way to mitigate a major risk factor: your refrigeration equipment. Some of the most damaging violations you can receive in an inspection come from food being stored or held at the wrong temperature. Performing regular maintenance on all your refrigeration units can all but eliminate this concern.
How poorly maintained refrigeration equipment affects your grade
You’ve been in this business long enough to know that the temperature of your food is critical to public health and safety. That’s why the NYC health department scores violations related to food temperature so high. Small issues that often go unnoticed can cause temperature variance in your refrigeration units and lead to serious health code violations.
For example, take that low-boy refrigerator on your cooking line. It’s down close to the floor where the condenser coils can accumulate dust, dirt and debris. It’s right in the line of fire where you’re cooking, so it can easily become splattered with grease and food droppings. Since these units are small, it doesn’t take much buildup on the condenser to impede the functioning of the unit, causing the interior temperature to rise. You may not notice if it’s a few degrees off, but rest assured that the health inspector will notice. And ding you with violation points.
Another common cause of temperature variance that’s easily overlooked by restaurant staff is doors that don’t close properly. Loose or broken hinges or even grease on gaskets can cause your low-boy to leak cool air, and suck in the hot air from nearby cooking appliances. If you notice that the temperature is ok in the morning, but climbs as the day goes on, your unit is probably not closing properly. The health inspector will notice that, too!
“A” grade refrigeration maintenance
Keeping your refrigeration equipment in top shape will go a long way to keeping your restaurant’s grade at the top of the class. Start with a daily wipe-down inside and outside of all units to remove dust and debris. Make sure all units have accurate thermometers and check them throughout the day to verify the correct operating temperature for each piece of equipment. It’s also important to make sure airflow around each refrigeration unit is not impeded by furniture or décor, storage items, or other equipment.
Next, it’s time to call in the pros. Just like your restaurant’s other mission-critical systems, your refrigeration equipment needs TLC from experienced technicians to keep operating reliably. Here are just a few of the important items that must be attended to:
Clean ice machines!
This is one of the most common causes of health code violations. Your ice may look just fine, but the inside of a neglected ice machine is a scary sight, and very likely to cause your customers to become ill. Your ice machine needs to be regularly taken apart and cleaned with a chemical sanitizer to remove mold.
Clean condenser and evaporator coils.
These are critical components of every refrigeration unit. If they are dirty, the unit has to work harder to maintain the interior temperature, which also uses more energy and shortens the life span of the equipment. To keep your units running reliably, your refrigeration service tech uses special cleaners and equipment to carefully remove grease and build-up without damaging the fan motor or compressor.
Check gaskets, hinges, and door hardware.
Air leaks not only cause temperature variance, but also raise your utility bill. Your technician will check doors for proper seal, and replace faulty hardware, lubricate hinges and clean gaskets to prevent costly consequences.
Check for water leaks.
Water leaking inside or outside a refrigeration unit is cause for alarm for a number of reasons. Not only will you get health code violations, but water inside the unit can cause food to be contaminated and make people sick. Leaks are also a symptom of a larger problem with the unit, and need to be addressed before the unit breaks down completely. Your technician can often spot and fix problems before you’re out a walk-in refrigerator on a busy day.
Check refrigerant charge.
If your unit is constantly running warm, it may be leaking refrigerant. Your technician can recharge the refrigerant and fix the leak.
You know how important your grade is to your restaurant’s reputation and ultimately, profitability. That big sign at your entrance announces your food safety status to everyone who walks by. Maintaining your refrigeration equipment is crucial to making sure you can proudly display that “A” grade. So don’t neglect your equipment for one more day. Invest in a refrigeration service contract with a reputable and experienced company.