Reach-In Refrigerators and Freezers

 

 

Reach-in refrigerators and freezers are a must within a commercial kitchen. Designed for back of the house functions, the reach-in is the workhorse that you will rely on to hold food at safe temperatures before it is ready for preparation.

At Central, there are hundreds of reach-in models available, each with different features and specifications. It can be quite overwhelming, so we have created this buying guide to help you learn about what features are important, so you can make the best buying decision for your business


 

A reach-in refrigerator is a commercial refrigerator designed for the storage of food and ingredients for preparation. It is the most frequently used refrigeration unit in the foodservice industry due to its versatility, reasonable cost, size, and storage efficiency.

Construction Material

The construction quality of a reach-in ranges from economy models to premium (often called “Spec Series” or “Spec-Line”), with a variety of models in-between. What does that mean? Typically, it refers to the amount of stainless steel used in the product. Stainless steel is resilient and more resistant to rusting and wear than aluminum, which is much weaker and not as scratch-resistant. Top-of-the-line reach-ins will use a heavy gauge stainless steel both inside and out on the unit. The drawback to that is cost. Pricing increases the more stainless steel is used. For economy and mid-priced reach-ins, you’ll see a combination of stainless steel and aluminum used. A lot of the time, you’ll see a stainless steel exterior and an aluminum interior. This will save you money in the short term but may not have the long-term durability that an all-stainless model would provide.


Compressor Location

Reach-in refrigerators and freezers work by pulling in ambient air through their compressor to regulate the internal temperature of the unit. Compressors can be mounted on either the top of the unit, or on the bottom. There are pros and cons to both locations and are dependent on the environment that the reach-in is located.

turbo air reach-in refrigerator

Top Mounted Compressor

Because warm air rises higher than cool air, top mounted compressors are ideal in cooler environments, as pulling in warmer air means the compressor must work harder to regulate temperature. However, this also means that your kitchen will be kept cooler, as the warm air exhaust is at the top of the unit and above the work area. Top mounted compressors are positioned outside of the food zone, giving you full use of the interior refrigerated space. While they are less accessible for cleaning and service, overall, top mounted compressors require less service than bottom mounts, as they are less likely to get clogged from dust, flour, or grease from the floor.

true reach-in refrigerator

Bottom Mounted Compressor

Better for hot environments, reach-ins with bottom mounted compressors pull in cooler air from the floor, so the compressor doesn’t have to work as hard. Not having the compressor up top also means you can store boxes and miscellaneous items if needed on top of the unit. Bottom shelves are easier to reach in a bottom mounted reach-in. Cleaning your compressor is easier as well, since you won’t need a ladder to access it. If you have a bakery or an environment with a lot of dust or flour, you would be better off going with a top mounted unit, as a bottom mounted compressor can easily become clogged with particles from the floor, which reduces the efficiency of the unit if not cleaned regularly


The great thing about reach-in refrigerators and freezers is there are so many access and door types to fit your operation. The following section will break down the possible options and what their advantages are.

Door Material

Reach-ins are available in both solid door and glass door models. Solid door reach-in refrigerators are easier to clean than glass and offer better insulation. Glass door refrigerators are great when you need easy visual access to product. Being able to see the product before you open the door means less time holding the door open to find what you need, thus keeping your cold air in.

Glass Door Refrigerator vs. Glass Door Merchandiser – There IS a Difference!

It’s important to note that glass door reach-in refrigerators do NOT have the same functionalities as a glass door merchandiser. Yes, glass door merchandisers are cheaper, but they are only rated to safely hold non-potentially-hazardous pre-packaged goods, including bottles and cans. Not only that, but they are designed solely for the front of the house, as they are intended for use in areas where the ambient temperature does not go above 75°F. Glass door reach-ins are designed for the back of the house, just like standard reach-ins.

Door Size

This is simple. Reach-in refrigerators and freezers will have either a full-size door or half-size doors. Half door refrigerators compartmentalize your products, so if you need to reach something on the top right shelf, you only need to open the top right door, rather than with a full-size door, where the entire side is exposed when opened. This helps regulate internal temperatures more consistently and conserve energy. Full height door units offer more storage space than half height models, as they don’t have the separation in the middle of each section of the unit.

Door Type

Most reach-in units will feature a swing door. Swing doors have the advantage of being able to stay open while you load and unload product. The only drawback is that swing doors can sometime block the flow of traffic in narrow spaces in the kitchen. There are a few units that offer a sliding door option, which is a perfect option if you don’t have a lot of space for a door. However, sliding doors are self-closing, which can make loading and unloading tricky if your hands are full.

Access Type

The standard reach-in has a direct access type: you reach-in from one side, grab your product, and go. However, there are other access types available which are great options to consider. The first one is Pass Thru refrigerators and freezers. Pass thru models are designed to go between the back and the front of the house. These units offer access from both the front and the back, so kitchen staff can load product from the back, as servers grab product out from the front and serve as needed. There are also Roll-in refrigerators that have no shelves—rather, they are a cavity designed to fit a roll-in rack filled with product. This is great for prep work, as you can load everything on a rack, and store at once in the refrigerator.

Sizing

You will see reach-in units in one, two, and three door models. You will see one door refrigerators in an average cubic foot capacity of 23 cubic ft. Two door refrigerators are 46 or 49 cubic ft. depending on the model, and three door units are around 72 cubic ft. These are nominal capacities for the industry, so check with your Product Consultant for actual capacities on the unit you’re looking at or look at the spec sheet on the product page. Larger units will provide more storage space, but they also consume more energy and floor space, so don’t overbuy! Width varies on reach-ins, but you should ALWAYS make sure to measure your space before making any buying decision—including door frames and corners. Don’t buy a unit that won’t fit through your door!

Safety

Making sure your reach-in meets health and safety codes and requirements is critical to avoiding trouble down the line. Models such as Victory Refrigeration’s UltraSpec line feature built-in temperature monitoring technology that meets HACCP compliances and meets NAFEM’s data protocol for safety.

Spec Series vs. Standard

As you search for a reach-in, you may see models branded as “Spec Series” or “Spec-Line.” Spec Series refers to a manufacturer’s top-of-the-line series. These will carry a premium in cost but will have more sophisticated features and upgrades compared to a standard model.