10 Steps to a Clean Walk-In Cooler or Freezer
A walk-in cooler and freezer can be overlooked in the regular cleaning of a commercial kitchen. Sometimes we shut the door and that chore becomes “out of sight, out of mind.” Because of the cold environment, we can tend to think that microbes aren’t a problem in the walk-in, but they most certainly can be! Maybe it even seems like we are rarely in the walk-ins, so messes don’t really occur in there. But if we’re honest, we all know the walk-ins can get filthy pretty quick if we don’t stay on top of it! Here are ten tips for keeping your walk-in cooler and freezer clean, safe, and well-maintained.
1. Clean up spills quickly.
The moisture from spills will increase the humidity in your cooler, leading to mold growth. Also, as the water evaporates from the spilled liquid, the spill becomes more difficult to clean. Spills in the freezer become ice, which is a safety hazard. If you see a spill, clean it immediately. Check the cooler daily for leaks and spills, making sure to look under and behind the shelving.
2. Remove old and spoiled food.
The goal should be to watch your expiration dates and remove food BEFORE it spoils. But occasionally something will spoil, so make sure it is removed immediately. Moldy food releases spores, which travel through the air and infect other foods. Keeping your food covered helps protect it from these spores, as well. Spoiled food is also attractive to pests. Separating foods slightly to leave space around each container allows for proper air flow, which reduces condensation; reduced condensation = less mold.
3. Keep the door closed.
This, of course, helps the walk-in cooler or freezer maintain temperature, which we all know is essential for food safety. (It also helps with the energy bills.) But keeping the door closed also helps the cooler regulate humidity, which helps inhibit mold growth.
4. Sanitize the door handle.
The handle is a high-touch surface, so microbes can grow quickly here and be transferred easily to all the many employees who touch it. Sanitize the door handle at least once per day.
5. Clean surfaces with soap and water.
Harsh chemicals can be harmful to the metal surfaces of your walk-in cooler or freezer, so we recommend you clean them with soap and water. It will be effective in reducing the microbial load while being gentle on your walk-in’s walls and floor. In a food service setting, we recommend spot cleaning the walls and shelves weekly, in addition to cleaning up messes as they occur. At least one a year you’ll need to move everything out of the cooler or freezer and do a deep clean. The annual deep clean is also an excellent time to do a detailed inspection of every inch of the cooler or freezer, checking for damage, signs of mechanical problems, and evidence of pests. Document the cleaning, and follow through with necessary repairs.
6. Clean the door gasket.
While you’re cleaning the walls and floor, clean the door gasket with soap and water, as well. Inspect the gasket for cracks, stiffness, or soil. We recommend doing this weekly. Replace the gasket when it gets damaged or too stiff to form a good seal. This keeps your temperature stable and your unit running efficiently. Document when you replace the door gasket.
7. Sweep and mop the floor.
Soap and water is best for this job. In a foodservice environment, we recommend doing this small chore daily. If you have trouble with your mop water freezing before you can wipe it up, add 1 cup isopropyl alcohol to 1 gallon of hot, soapy water to lower the freezing point and give you more time. Document the cleaning. If you notice any sign of pests during this daily cleaning, be sure to handle the problem immediately with a pest control service.
8. Keep a Temperature Log
Put a reliable refrigerator thermometer in your walk-in cooler and freezer, and log the temperature daily. It’s best to record the temperature at the same time each day, so you can track how well the cooler is performing. If the temperatures indicate that the cooler or freezer is struggling to maintain temperature, get it serviced immediately!
9. Clean the evaporator and condensing coils.
This should be done at least every 6 months. We recommend using soap, water, and a stiff-bristled brush. When your evaporator and condensing coils are clean and functioning properly, the humidity in the cooler is kept down, which decreases mold growth. Also, keep the immediate area around the evaporator and coils clear to prevent obstruction of airflow, which can affect function. Document the semi-annual cleaning.
10. Keep the drain line unclogged.
Inspect the drain line regularly, and have it serviced annually to ensure it is draining properly. Document the servicing of your unit(s).
Walk-in coolers and freezers are a huge investment for a foodservice operation, so you’ll want to keep them running well for as long as possible. With regular cleaning, care, and maintenance, your walk-in coolers and freezers should serve you well for many years. Big Plate can special order your walk-in cooler and/or freezer, so call or come in to discuss your needs!