Peter Powell

For contractors who work on supermarket refrigeration equipment, the issue of highest importance is food safety. Meats, fish, dairy products, and a whole host of other consumable items are subject to the slightest fluctuations in enclosure temperatures.

Frozen foods are also dependent on refrigeration in terms of freezers and below freezing temperatures, which itself is an exact science in trying to balance between a temperature that might cause freezer burns and one that might lead to melting conditions.

A contractor’s customer is ultimately the store- owner. But that owner’s ability to stay in business (and pay the contractor) rests entirely on the owner’s customers, the shoppers who come into the store.

Television newsmagazines’ efforts at exposes sometimes finds reporters operating undercover with hidden cameras to catch supermarket personnel following anything less than best practices when it comes to the handling of food.

Even without hidden cameras, failure to meet mandated health standards can touch off a flurry of concerns even if those concerns originate further up the food chain long before the product reaches the store.

There is some good news in terms of shoppers’ feelings about food safety issue. A report issued this past spring by the Food Marketing Institute said, in part, “Consumers’ confidence in the safety of food bought at supermarkets rebounded to 81 percent (in 2008), from the 18-year low of 66 percent last year.”

The report, titled U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2008, added, “Their confidence is fragile, however. Only 11 percent are completely confident, down from 15 percent in 2007 and 70 percent are somewhat confident.”

As noted by Tim Hammonds, who at the time of the report was FMI president and CEO, “Retailers are taking extensive measures to help safeguard the food supply from the source to the consumer’s kitchen.” He went on to say that rigorous safety standards through independent audits and certification are used such as the FMI’s Safety Quality Food (SQF) Program.

In summarizing the safety aspect of the Trends 2008 report, FMI noted, “Numerous companies send managers and employees to FMI’s SuperSafeMark® program to learn the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code. The industry and government are expanding programs to educate consumers how to keep food safe.”


What all this means to contractors in the supermarket sector is that customers, store owners, store managers, and store employees, along with the government, are watching issues related to food safety closer than ever with properly operating coolers and freezers integral to the process. The challenge to those working on and maintaining that equipment under so many watchful eyes is compounded by the fact that the technology to maintain precise cooler and freezing is constantly changing.

New refrigerants, new types of mechanical systems, new display cases, new control technologies, and new tools seem to be regularly arriving. And it is not just one new refrigerant but a half dozen, along with at least three distinctive types of mechanical systems, a number of ways to operate display cases, who knows how many controls approaches, and seemingly a different tool for every refrigerant, system type, case make, etc.

And added to all that is the fact that all refrigeration equipment, whatever type with whatever refrigerant, is subject to stricter and stricter government regulations regarding leak rates, while store owners are demanding ever increasing efficiencies.

It is a daunting task, but one those in the supermarket refrigeration sector have been up to over the years. The most basic example is that sector’s willingness to change refrigerants in response to government regulations. It was ahead of the curve in that regard and continues to be in so many other aspects.

Each refrigeration contractor can only deal with the equipment he or she has control over. Regardless of what controversy might swirl around the overall sector of the industry, if the equipment in that contractor’s control is doing its job, then the contractor can consider his part of the equation, a job well done.

Publication date:09/01/2008