When it comes to the business of selling and serving food, refrigeration is vital. Each type of food business will have different needs in keeping products and ingredients fresh and safe for consumption. For food truck owners, choosing the best refrigerator for your business can have a great impact not just to the quality of the food served but on the operation of your venture.
Considerations and Decisions
Not all refrigerators are created equal and choosing the right one is important from the start for a food truck business. This type of equipment is an investment not to be taken lightly, more so as it affects your business operations in a daily basis.
One factor that entrepreneurs must first consider is the nature of your business and how refrigeration will be utilized. Will your products be frozen like ice cream or just cold like fresh ingredients? Will you be storing ingredients or ready-made products? Do you want it to be multipurpose like a glass door merchandiser or a sandwich preparation table? The refrigerator you will purchase must be able to complement and function seamlessly with your business model.
Another consideration is the type, size, and energy efficiency of the appliance. Some may choose to use residential type refrigerators to save a bit of money but they are less powerful and have limited selection than commercial types. Also, there are varieties of commercial refrigerators that are more suited for a food truck business because they come with convenient features like prep tables, refrigerated drawers, and extremely durable design. Though commercial refrigerators are typically larger than residential types, many models are designed to be energy efficient that can save you money in the long run.
Also an important factor is the after-sales support for the refrigerator including maintenance, warranty, and parts. Because a busted refrigerator can halt your food truck operation, maintenance and repair services must be taken into account when picking the brand or manufacturer of your equipment. Having dependable after-sales support ensures that you will benefit from the full life-cycle of the equipment and get a return on investment.
The health code and regulation of the vending areas is also a factor that must never be overlooked when choosing equipment for your food truck. Many territories have city or state laws that require mobile food businesses to have commercial-type appliances. These regulations may set specifications like storage capacity, acceptable operating temperature, or even external thermostat display based on the type of products to be sold. Ensure to purchase a refrigerator that will be compliant to local laws to avoid legal issues from interrupting your business operation.
Not All Are Created Equal
Commercial refrigerators specifically marketed for mobile food businesses come in various types with their own benefits.
Refrigerated Chef Bases
Featuring rugged tops that can be used for food preparation or hold other appliances, refrigerated chef bases gained popularity due to its convenient design. Because the refrigerated drawers are conveniently close to the cooking line, food truck operation is efficient and requires less movement.
Buyer’s Check: If cooking equipment will be used on top of the chef base, make sure to take into account the warm air produced by the refrigerator’s condenser in addition to the heat from the cooking equipment when doing the calculation of CFM (cubic per minute) ventilation requirements for the exhaust hood. Use mounting legs to achieve minimum amount of clearance between the cooking equipment and the chef base. Check the refrigerator’s specification sheet to prevent exceeding the weight of objects put on top of the chef base.
Sandwich, Salad, or Pizza Prep Tables
Used to streamline food preparation while keeping ingredients cold and fresh, prep tables can be equipped with mounted cutting board and pans for easy food assembly. They can come in two different categories: sandwich or salad prep table and pizza prep tables. Sandwich prep tables have a thinner cutting board, have no rail (flat prep), and uses 1/3 size food pans. Pizza prep tables have a thicker cutting board, raised rail, and uses 1/6 size food pans. Depending on the model, refrigeration is achieved via air cooled, cold wall, or liquid jacket method.
Buyer’s Check: Choose the type base on your application and available space. The number of ingredients required by the dish or menu can affect what style and configuration you must purchase. Keep refrigerated prep tables from high heat, humidity, or air flow as it may impact the quality and temperature of ingredients.
With limited space to work with inside a food truck, under-counter models can serve as a main or secondary refrigeration unit. They are designed to be fit under counter-tops and some are not suitable to be used as preparation space or hold equipment above them. Height measurements include 36 inches for typical under-counter refrigerators, 34 inches for “ADA height” (Americans with Disabilities Act) models, and 30 to 32 inches for “low profile” versions (including legs or casters).
Buyer’s Check: Carefully measure the area where the fridge or freezer will be placed. Depending on the design of the model, required clearance for proper ventilation might be necessary. Drawer-types are gaining more popularity due to quick access to ingredients compared to door-type under-counter refrigerators. Some under-counter refrigerators are designed with heavy-duty worktop surface and can be mounted with an optional back-splash accessory, essentially transforming it into a worktop refrigerator.
Having the same height as an under-counter refrigerator, worktop models differ by being designed to provide a convenient space for cutting and preparing food. Also, some models have a back-splash attached to protect the wall from food debris or particles, though other models forego this feature to achieve a seamless and easier to clean design.
Buyer’s Check: Due to similarities with under-counter refrigerators, check the weight-bearing specification of the model you are about to purchase, as those designed to be able to carry weight above can be safely used as worktop.
Choosing the right refrigerator for your mobile food business can be a bit confusing with all the options available and the various health regulations that need to be considered. But sticking to your business plan, needs, and budget is a great way to keep on track and select the equipment that will help your food truck succeed.