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The History and Future of Commercial Refrigeration

The History and Future of Commercial Refrigeration

Posted by | 22-02-2021

Commercial refrigerators are no ordinary appliances: they can make or break any foodservice operation, such as restaurants and grocery stores. These refrigeration units are responsible for long-term food storage and product display, impacting the customer experience through their ability to maintain fresh taste and quality. Without a working commercial freezer, it’s impossible to run a healthy and profitable food business.

These modern appliances are a marvel, but do you know how they started — and where they’re headed? It’s time to learn some tidbits about commercial refrigerators’ history and future.

Early Commercial Refrigerators

Can you imagine a time before commercial refrigerators? Where did raw and cooked food and store inventory go to be stored safely? The commercial refrigeration industry has certainly come a long way. These mighty appliances were developed in response to a demand to store and transport food safely and preserve their fresh, quality taste.

Humble Beginnings in Ice Machines

Did you know that commercial refrigerators were an accidental invention? That’s right — these appliances were not initially conceived for long-term food storage. Instead, the first commercial refrigerator was designed to freeze water to produce ice. In Texas, these early refrigerators were also used in beef production and breweries, enabling inventory storage. And while these early refrigerators were not successful, their legacy is in jumpstarting the commercial refrigeration industry.

The Refrigerated Rail Car

It’s one thing to store food in a permanent location, but it’s a bigger challenge to ensure that it remains fresh and safe during transport. Without figuring out a way to transport food safely, the inventory losses would be too costly to recover from. Enter the refrigerated rail car.

This early commercial refrigerator prototype was developed in the 1840s, primarily to keep beef cool and fresh. That followed the development of germ theory, which proved that harvested ice could lead to diseases and taint drinking water. In their place, early commercial refrigerators were built to keep food freshly frozen while in transport.

As their name suggests, refrigerated rail cars were used for food transport: these large units were built onto train cars, trucks, and warehouses and were refined and reduced to residential-size appliances over time.

Towards Refrigerants and Stable Cooling

As commercial refrigerators continued to be refined, the ice machine was slowly replaced with refrigerants that kept food cool at stable and consistent temperatures. When refrigerants were first developed, their primary components were chemicals like ammonia and methyl chloride.

Eventually, these were replaced with Freon, a synthesized gas refrigerant that was more stable and comparably safer. Before 1987, Freon was the most commonly used refrigerant in reputable commercial refrigerators before being discontinued due to its ozone layer depleting effects.

Lightweight, Affordable, and Modern Commercial Refrigerators

The 20th century was especially pivotal to appliances like commercial refrigerators. These newer models are a lot closer to the technology that every restaurant and grocery store relies on today: lightweight and easy to transport, affordable, and available in various models and sizes.

Manufacturers have developed commercial refrigerators that are much safer to operate than their predecessors. These no longer rely on volatile gases and harmful chemicals for refrigerants and consistent cooling, making them much safer and reliable for food storage.

With the growth of smart technology and sleek design aesthetics, today’s commercial refrigerators feature digital thermostats, transparent glass displays, and energy-efficient LED lights. Thanks to these industry-standard features, commercial refrigerators have enabled successful product displays and sales in grocery stores and cost-effective inventory storage.

The Future of Commercial Refrigerators

Commercial refrigerators have come a long way from the ice machines and rail cars of the 19th century. Today, it’s impossible to imagine a foodservice operation — or even life at home — without a reliable refrigerator. What exciting new features are still coming to commercial refrigerators — and where is the future of optimal food storage, product display, and food safety headed?

Compressor Protection Controls

A commercial refrigerator is nothing without a working compressor. Unfortunately, it’s never 100% safe from extreme damage that can occur with low or under-voltage. That’s why new commercial refrigerators are expected to be designed with increased protections for the compressor, ensuring that owners can maximize their appliance’s function and lifespan. These compressor protections are embedded on the front and back of the compressor unit for damage prevention.

Refrigerant Temperature Sensors

The refrigerant is responsible for cooling and maintaining consistent, food-safe interior temperatures. Exciting new developments in commercial refrigerators include addressing common refrigerant problems, like charges resulting in leaks, as well as drastic temperature shifts.

New, cost-effective sensors would be capable of monitoring the refrigerant temperature in the condenser and evaporator coils. These sensors feature a fast-response thermistor embedded in an over-moulded copper clip snapped into small return bends, then housed in a small bulb. This design would enable the sensors to detect changes in refrigerant temperature.

As for reducing refrigerant charge and system leaks, new developments are aligned with secondary and distributed systems. These result in lower charges, lower leak rates, and overall, a reduced carbon footprint. With a significantly reduced refrigerant charge, commercial refrigerators would be more energy-efficient — a positive step towards green kitchen technology and energy savings.

Digital Technology

Commercial refrigerators already feature digital technology, such as smart thermostats. But in the future, this technology can extend to compressors to provide increased capacity modulation. Currently, commercial refrigerators feature rack systems that were designed evenly, essentially to keep their designs simple. However, new trends point towards a demand for rack systems that are uneven to match changing capacity requirements, such as grocery store loads.

Digital compressors offer a suitable middle ground: keep racks with even compressors, but provide capacity modulation capabilities through continuous digital unloading on one compressor. That would keep rack designs simple and promote easier serviceability of commercial refrigerators.

It would also reduce the cost of rack systems because compressors can be eliminated. Overall, future commercial refrigerators would feature improved performance, thanks to their ability to match the capacity generated to the required load in stores.

To learn more about commercial refrigerators, including our range of refurbished True™ commercial refrigerators, call Ancaster Food Equipment at 866-711-5486, or contact us here.

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