Once restricted to large, bespoke installations for bulk deliveries andproduction kitchens, coldrooms now offer easily installed extra food storage space at pubs, restaurants and smaller outlets. Bruce Whitehall examines the pros and cons
Thanks to modular construction, rapid assembly and the ability to add them as lean-to extensions to building exteriors, coldrooms can be a cost-effective way of gaining more space for chilled or frozen stock.
A coldroom with an internal space of 6ft long x 4ft wide x 6ft high (or 4cu m) enables more than 4,000 litres gross capacity to be assembled on-site from standard components for about £3,000. That's comparable to the list price of a double-door upright commercial refrigerator with a gross capacity of 1,400 litres, and a lot cheaper, litre for litre, than a counter-type refrigerated storage cabinet.
The much greater capacity possible in a walk-in coldroom is not fully useable, since gangway space can account for 20-25% of the interior. Even so, convenient walk-in access means that stock can be taken in and out much more easily. And locating food and drink in the racking is much more straightforward than in the crammed shelves or drawers that tend to occur with cabinets.
Nor is installation of coldrooms as big an upheaval as it used to be, thanks to packaged components, standard insulated panels and click-together cam locks of the kind featured by modular system specialists such as Viessmann. Its UK agent, Coldrooms UK, can supply a wide range of single- and multi-compartment chiller and freezer rooms.
A coldroom delivery and installation package introduced last year by Caravell UK promises on-site assembly in about 30 minutes. According to managing director John Lougher, prices start from £2,350 for a coldroom measuring 1,160mm wide x 1,160mm deep x 2,000mm high (just under 2.7cu m).
John Savage, food service director at Foster Refrigerator, says that his company's Fast Fit coldrooms - available in 15 different floor sizes from 4sq m to 10sq m - were created with pubs, colleges, small restaurants and take-aways in mind. Savage says that environmental performance is a growing attraction, thanks to the introduction of low-energy pack systems. Where coldrooms are built outside - for example, adjacent to the kitchen building with a roof over and a door through the wall to the kitchen - installations can typically be classed as temporary buildings and therefore require no planning permission.
"A coldroom located outside or away from the main kitchen is ideal for premises where kitchens are small - in pubs, for example, or city centre locations," points out Malcolm Harling, sales director at Williams Refrigeration. "For other caterers, locating some of the bulkier storage away from the main kitchen - such as in the car park or a loading bay near the kitchen, for example - frees up valuable kitchen space or more space in the restaurant for additional tables."
Cabinets and work flow
Caterers restricted to the kitchen area might see little scope beyond standard refrigerator and freezer cabinets, but Steve Benson, sales director of Valera, points out that a scattering of uprights wherever there is room risks cluttering up workflow. "A coldroom sited in one area would be a far more practical and cost-effective solution, as it will prove to be more economical, easier to use and have a much larger capacity," he says.
Trevor Burke, managing director of Exclusive Ranges, is not so sure. He feels that even the smallest coldrooms are often too large for the average restaurant. But he concedes that standard upright cabinets can have their limitations, too. "Thinking outside the box" might be a better option, he feels. "Cookers, ovens and dishwashers have all got smaller and more versatile in recent years, but it is only recently that manufacturers have looked at ways to do the same with refrigeration," he suggests.
The Igloo brand of storage cabinets, which his company supplies, attempts to offer new variations in both shape and siting, as with wall-mounted, counter-style and pass-through cabinets. These can be 25% more costly than regular uprights or coldrooms but can ensure genuine separation of different types of food within the same counter with no transfer of aroma.
Another company offering space-saving options, including small coldrooms, is Gram (UK). For example, it has a system for combining a fridge and a freezer within the same cabinet footprint, either one on top of the other or side by side. The company also makes special brackets to enable small refrigerated or freezer cabinets to be sited safely over work benches.
According to Steve Loughton, commercial director of Enodis UK Food Service, which sells Delfield Sadia refrigeration equipment, the ultimate issue is how well coldrooms and cabinets can complement each other. "Cabinets are fine for smaller outlets, but there will come a break-even point when an investment in a coldroom will actually start to save money and, just as importantly, save energy," he says.
The ability to wheel items directly into a coldroom can also favour larger spaces, and coldrooms efficiently receive deliveries without the need for a cabinet door to be open for a sustained period of time.
However, virtually all establishments using coldrooms must still typically rely on cabinets in the kitchen for fast and easy access to food required regularly.
Roger Flanagan, managing director of Universal Foodservice Equipment, points out that coldrooms might be able to cope with certain space restrictions or building quirks the Baron range offered by Universal includes three-sided rooms that can be installed across corners. However, caterers must also take into account workflow patterns and food safety issues. "One of the big problems with coldrooms is that they hold everything at exactly the same temperature," he points out.
Food service consultant Robert Croft, managing director of FDS Associates, expands on this point. "Coldrooms can be fraught with cross-contamination problems if they are expected to store different types of food - meat, dairy or whatever. The usual approach is to go for the lowest temperature of product that you want to store - for instance, 3°C - and if the fruit and vegetables suffer, so be it. It might be difficult to keep these fully segregated, whereas with a number of separate mobile refrigeration cabinets you can readily do that and do it more cost-effectively.
"You must also consider functionality. If you use a coldstore as a day store, the door is going to be opened and closed every five minutes, which is not good for consistent temperature. Doing that with a smaller cabinet does not disturb temperature to the same extent."
Getting the right balance is ultimately the best approach. Like many town centre restaurants, fusion food exponent Darcy's in St Albans, Hertfordshire, puts a premium on kitchen space. A Scandia modular walk-in coldroom, installed by Chiller Box, has proved to offer convenient storage outside the main kitchen. But chef Ruth Hurren uses it mainly as a bulk holding resource for replenishing upright fridges sited strategically around the kitchen. "They both do different jobs for us," she says. "When you are buying boxes of stuff like tomatoes and salads you can't hold them in a cabinet fridge any more than you can with dairy and boxes of meat and fish."
Two aspects of specification have been especially significant. First, although staff slips, trips and falls are most often associated with kitchen areas, Hurren considers them just as big a risk in coldrooms, so rather than a standard smooth floor, a non-slip floor was specified.
She also rates a clear shelving layout with the room sectioned off into different food groups. "A chef wanting a salad, a meat or a dairy product knows exactly where to look," she says.
Key maintenance tips for refrigeration equipment
- Many caterers plan a refrigeration maintenance visit just before summer to ensure their fridges and freezers will cope with summer temperatures and heavy workload. But last year the early hot weather caught caterers out. The hotter weather is coming earlier every year, so we suggest bringing forward pre-summer refrigeration maintenance to, at the latest, April.
- Fridges with floor-level inlets will get dirtier if the fridge is next to an outside door, as dust, dirt and leaves get dragged or blown in. If the fridge is by a door next to a room with a carpet, it will clog more often, as carpet fibres are dragged in by waiters during service. Make sure your service engineer cleans these fridges properly when he services them, and keep an eye yourself on dust levels, especially if you have new carpet.
- Remove anything that blocks the air inlets and stops the fridge motor breathing. If it can't breathe, it will get hot and wear out the compressor more quickly.
- On hot days don't be tempted to turn the fridge or freezer temperature down let it work at the same temperature as normal.
- Check the temperature of your fridges and freezers first thing in the morning. If they haven't pulled down to temperature after working all night, call an engineer immediately.
- If your fridge or freezer is iced up, the ice acts as an insulator and stops the chilling process. This will make your compressor overheat. So switch it all off and let it defrost. If it ices up again, call a service engineer.
- If your freezer is warming up between temperature checks, move the food to another freezer, and switch off the faulty one.
- Cleaning door seals with a sharp knife wrapped in a cloth will split them. A split door seal will trap food soil for the environmental health officer to see - and that means trouble.
- A split door seal also makes the compressor work harder, and uses more energy.
- Don't fill up your cabinets so much that the air can't circulate inside. This will ice up the evaporator.
- Don't expect your bottle cooler to chill the bottles chill them first, and then transfer them to the bottle fridge.
Source: Serviceline (01438 363000)
- Caravell UK 01280 826600
- Chiller Box 0800 849 1188
- Enodis UK Food Service Group 0845 370 4888
- Exclusive Ranges 01707 361770
- FDS Associates 01788 860525
- Foster Refrigerator 01553 691122
- Gram (UK) 01322 616900
- Scandia 01255 433595
- Universal Foodservice Equipment 01883 341800
- Valera 01708 869593
- Viessmann 01702 293555
- Williams Refrigeration 01553 817000