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Refrigerator Risks - A Warm Cooler

We all know a warm refrigerator is usually the most stressful thing we can come across during the day. I opened my restaurant with a sturdy, but used, 3-door cooler that gave me plenty of heart-ache.

This is a good reason to keep a daily refrigerator/freezer temperature log on each refrigerator unit. If you have data on the temperature of all your units, you can sometimes save food you have otherwise discarded.

Let’s look at some possible scenarios:

It is 8:00am, and you just arrived to work. You walk around the facility, check all the refrigerator units and document their temperatures. Your big pizza cooler is 54°F. What will you do?

It’s right before lunch, and you check the temperatures (or have your cook do it) of each unit. The sauté reach-in is 49°F. A couple of hours ago it measured 41°F. What do you do?

These are all situations operators inspectors can encounter on a regular basis. Most of the time, there is no temperature log for any refrigeration units and all of the temperature control for safety (TCS) foods are discarded, not knowing how long it could have been out of temperature control.

Answers to possible scenarios:

  1. All TCS foods will need to be discarded. You have to assume it was out of temperature over night and exceeded the four hour limit.

  2. Since it has been less than four hours out of temperature you would remove all the TCS

  3. foods to another working refrigeration unit, preferably a walk-in or powerful unit to rapidly cool the products. If a TCS food was put into the unit 3 hours before you noted the warm temperature, you would only have 1 hour to drop it to 41F.

Daily refrigerator/freezer temperature logs are helpful and can be cost effective. Also worth mentioning is the maintenance of the units. When I return for a re-inspection on an improperly working refrigeration unit, I frequently hear that the problem was dirty coils. This is something you can put on a cleaning schedule in your facility and make sure they are being cleaned weekly. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


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