The debate on the benefits of using curtains for the cold room and freezer room with today’s technology is surprising. There are clear benefits for using curtains in the cold room and freezer room. Yet, there are still many kitchens that do not see how the use of air / plastic curtains can save on energy cost, maintenance and maintaining proper temperature for both the cold and freezer rooms.
We know that each time a cold room door is opened the cold air is ‘sucked out’ creating space for warm air to enter. The temperature difference between the ambient kitchen and cold room is virtually the same as the difference between the freezer room and cold room.
By way of example, consider an ambient temperature of 24° C (75 °F) and fridge temperature of 4 °C (39 °F), and -18°C (0 °F) freezer temperature to 4°C (39 °F). That’s a 20 – 22 ° C difference in temperature.
What are the temperature benefits of curtains in the cold room and freezer room?
These changes create condensation, ice build-up and energy loss. Before considering the use of air vs plastic curtains. Let’s look at the use of curtains in general.
Creating a barrier that limits the exchange of hot and cold air means that there is less energy required to keep the fridge/freezer cold. This effectively means that the air temperature stays constant allowing better shelf life of the products stored in these units. Less moisture due to lowered condensation means less opportunity for bacteria to thrive.
The ice build up that develops as a result of the temperature exchange is also a health and safety concern. The ice creates a slippery environment which is not safe. If you’ve take a tumble in an iced up freezer room, you’ll understand that it is not a pleasant experience.
Additional benefits include being able to leave the door open a little longer. Those forgotten open doors that are difficult to control also have less barring on food safety.
So although there is a surprising cost to the purchase of air or plastic curtains, there is a long term benefit to their use.
There are two major cost benefits ; The energy usage of continually cooling the units. Electricity costs can be alarmingly high in the kitchen and any significant saving is worth the price. The second benefit means less strain on the condensers. This means saving on the maintenance and replacement of these units, which again is a costly process in the industry. These include the electrical elements such as lighting.
In our minds, these benefits : Energy, Maintenance, Food Safety make the initial cost of installation absolutely worth it.
The air curtain vs physical curtains
Air curtains do have clear benefits as opposed to physical curtains. The two obvious ones are the visibility of air curtains, in that you are able to see what is going on in the cold and freezer rooms. And there is little risk of cross-contamination when passing between these units. You don’t need to lift air curtains to pass through, which means no spillage and dropping of containers etc.
The physical curtain provides a solid barrier to these units which creates an increased benefit. They are less costly to install and maintain. And if kept clean, the chances for cross contamination can be minimised.
What are the realities of using either of these curtains?
There are clear benefits to using curtains, but we would be remiss to avoid mentioning the difficulties of using these curtains. So although we at Hygiene Food Safety advocate the use of curtains, deciding which types to use is not a clear cut choice.
- Air curtains do need to be maintained as all electrically operated equipment do.
- These units do also allow dirty build up, often encouraging the growth of moulds.
- The air pressure if not installed correctly, or the incorrect unit was installed for purpose.
- The air curtain can be ineffective in preventing temperature loss. Especially in instances where the air does not reach to the floor allowing cold air to escape.
- Staff in the kitchen often switch these units off because their purpose is not understood.
- Physical curtains do carry the risk of collecting dirt for spillage, dust etc.
- As a result carry a risk of cross-contamination.
- These curtains do get damaged over time. And will need replacement through regular kitchen use.
Having these curtains can be a hassle, and are often moved aside or hung over the door to allow easy entrance and exit. This practise will defeat the purpose of having curtains at all.
Through creating awareness of the benefits of using curtains the above difficulties can be overcome through training and developing an understanding of their function.
Air curtains should be :
- Cleaned as required to prevent cross-contamination
- Maintained on a regular basis to ensure proper air flow
- Kept on, but have an automated on/off function
Physical curtains should be:
- Kept clean, as any area in the kitchen
- Handled with care when entering and exiting
- Maintained as required.