Restaurants, grocery stores, supermarkets, and other foodservice establishments are held to the highest level of health and safety codes. This is for good reason, as it helps not only to ensure that your customers or diners are receiving safe food but also to preserve your establishment’s trusted reputation in the community.

While daily cleaning measures are an absolute must for maintaining a clean and healthy food service establishment, it still only represents the tip of the cleanliness iceberg. One of the most important, yet less visible components of maintaining a healthy establishment includes maintaining a clean walk-in refrigerator.

In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the industry-best practices for maintaining a clean and sanitary walk-in refrigerator. This includes routine tips as well as information on how to affect a long-term clean. Not to mention necessary routine maintenance.

In food service establishments that depend on cleanliness, a cluttered, disorganized, and dirty fridge can be a major problem. Not only can a dirty fridge cause bacteria to grow, but it can also cause your fridge to use more electricity and shorten its lifespan.

Organizing Your Walk-In Refrigerator

Maintaining an everyday level of organization will go a long way toward keeping the contents of your walk-in refrigerator clean and healthy. It will also go a long way toward reducing the number of special deep cleaning sessions you need to give it throughout the course of a year. This starts with simple things like:

Easy To Read Labels

Every product in your walk-in refrigerator needs to be properly labeled. This includes what is in a bag or box, or what is on a shelf. Whenever possible, it should include the date it was stocked. This will help you know when lesser-used items are approaching their expiration date and need to be properly disposed of

Color-Coded Bins

Color-coded bins are very helpful for preventing cross-contamination. This ensures that poultry always goes in the poultry bin and produce always stays in a produce bin.

Diligent Rotation Practices

Make sure that all employees with walk-in access are trained and understand the “First In, First Out” method for food rotation. Also known as FIFO, is an inventory management method that ensures that you use the freshest food first and prevents food from staying in your fridge for too long. It is a great method for keeping food costs low, as you will have less loss to spoilage or disposal due to the expiration date.

How To Properly Stock Your Walk-In Refrigerator or Freezer

Whether you are stocking your walk-in refrigerator for the first time, or you are restocking it after a deep cleaning, you need to embrace a thoughtful stocking strategy. This ensures that everything starts out being put in the right place and that all employees with walk-in access are using proper food placement procedures going forward. It helps to use a top-down strategy to keep things organized while also significantly reducing the risk of cross-contamination.

The Highest Shelf

The top shelf in your walk-in refrigerator or commercial freezer should be stocked with “Ready-to-eat foods.” This includes things like produce, butter, condiments, pre-cooked foods

The Second Highest Shelf

This is the best shelf for seafood, which might include fresh-caught fish or pre-thawed IQF seafood.

The Third Shelf

This tends to be just below eye level and is a great place for whole cuts of raw pork and beef as well as ground meats or fresh sausages.

The Bottom Shelf

The bottom shelf of a walk-in refrigerator tends to be the best place to keep poultry. This helps prevent any juices and bacteria from dripping down and contaminating the food below it and eliminates cross-contamination concerns.

Tips For Walk-In Refrigerator Deep Cleaning

Even the most well-maintaining and thoughtfully organized walk-in refrigerator still needs a good deep cleaning from time to time. Just how often will vary depending on how much turnover your stocks go through in a week, as well as the type of foods you tend to stock. It only stands to reason that a high-volume restaurant or one that serves a lot of seafood and poultry will have a greater need for walk-in deep cleaning. Of course, a walk-in deep cleaning is always a good idea if your establishment has a scheduled inspection coming up in the near future.

Many restaurant managers find it helps to schedule these cleaning sessions when stocks are at the lowest, which is typically right before the next delivery is due. Though this makes timeliness and efficiency of utmost importance.

In times like this, you can use the following steps as a guide to give your walk-in refrigerator the cleaning it needs.

Step One: Turn Off The Power

This might involve unplugging the walk-in refrigerator or turning off the circuit breaker. You might need to do this in advance if there is a part of the refrigerator that needs to be defrosted.

Step Two: Empty Each Shelf of All Items

If you have the luxury of a second walk-in refrigerator to hold viable items, make sure to move them first before removing the expired items. Just like stocking and organizing the walk-in refrigerator, it helps to work from the top down to prevent cross-contamination.

Step Three: Dispose of Any Expired Or Spoiled Items

Anything that’s expired or a perishable item that is no longer up to quality standards needs to be disposed of. If you happen to find a moldy item do your best to bag it before taking it out to the dumpster, this will prevent the accidental release of mold spores to the rest of the establishment or kitchen area.

Step Four: Wash Wire Racks, And Wipe Down Shelves & Walls

Mix antibacterial soap or other food-grade sanitizing agents with warm water and then wipe down all flat surfaces. Here again, use a top-down approach. Any wire shelves should be removed and meticulously washed, scraped down, or sanitized.

Step Five: Vacuum the Condenser and Coils

Dust and debris can easily work their way into the condenser and the surrounding coils. Not only can this make the walk-in refrigerator less energy efficient, but it can also make it hard for the thermostat to maintain a consistently safe temperature throughout the walk-in freezer in the future.

You can help prevent this problem by removing the protective grill that is found either on the top or bottom of your unit. Brush the coils and the fan unit to free up dirt and dust. Then use a high-quality vacuum with a HEPA filter to suck up all the debris. Then reinstall the grill and test to make sure the system is clean.

Step Six: Clean The Top & Bottom of the Walk-In Refrigerator

The lesser-seen areas at the top or underneath a portable walk-in refrigerator can be easy to ignore. Though they can also become a trap for dust and bacteria. Make sure to thoroughly clean them as part of any routine deep cleaning procedure.

Seeking Professional Help For Deep Cleaning A Commercial Walk-In Refrigerator

There are a lot of commercial kitchens and restaurants that turn to Building Services team of experienced cleaning professionals when their walk-in refrigerator needs a deep cleaning. As industry specialists, we have the experience and the commercial-grade cleaning equipment to affect a super level of cleanliness in all your walk-in refrigerators and freezers. Often faster and with less expense than it would be to repurpose your cooking staff for the task.