A Complete Guide to Commercial Refrigeration?

What is Commercial Refrigeration: Definition, Types & Applications

April 23, 2023

Whether you’re opening a new restaurant or retail outlet or looking to upgrade your current refrigeration equipment, choosing the right system can feel rather daunting. 

With so many options on the market, it’s critical to consider several factors. This will ensure you make the right decision.

In this post, we’ll guide you through the essential factors you need to consider before making your purchase. We’ll also provide some useful tips to help you select a commercial refrigeration system that meets your specific needs. 

If you’re ready, we’ll dive in.  

What Is Commercial Refrigeration?

Many people think that commercial and domestic fridges are the same when in fact they’re quite different.

Commercial refrigeration systems are designed to be opened and closed many times throughout the day. It makes no difference how many times this happens. The refrigeration system will be able to maintain a constant temperature. 

Domestic refrigeration systems, on the other hand, are only designed to be opened occasionally and for very short periods.

A commercial refrigeration system has unique components that ensure it meets the demands of the owner.  

What are the Components of a Commercial Refrigeration System?

Commercial refrigeration systems have several key components that work together. How does commercial refrigeration work? It works with the help of the following:


The compressor is at the heart of all commercial refrigeration systems. The compressor is what pushes compressed refrigerant gas through a commercial unit's system. As the gas is pushed through commercial units it is squeezed. This makes it hotter. 

The compressor helps to transfer the refrigerant from the evaporator to the condenser and allows the heat to be released into the environment. 


The condenser helps to release heat taken from the chilled compartment. This heat exchange radiates heat into the environment. 

A commercial refrigeration system’s condenser is often located on the outside of a building. It’s made of several coils or fins that help release heat into the surrounding water or air. 


The evaporator is what takes the heat out of refrigeration systems. You’ll find the evaporator inside the refrigeration system. It consists of several fins or coils which allow the refrigerant to collect heat from the water or air that surrounds it. 

Expansion Valve

The flow of refrigerant is controlled by the expansion valve. It lowers the refrigerant’s temperature and pressure to regulate the rate at which it flows into the evaporator.


A thermostat controls the temperature inside the refrigerator. It detects the temperature and then sends signals to the control board to turn the compressor on or off. The thermostat helps to ensure walk in coolers and other refrigeration solutions maintain a steady temperature.   

Cooling System

A commercial refrigeration device will have one of two types of cooling systems. 

Direct Cooling System

A direct cooling system has one exchanger that directly cools the air that circulates inside the refrigeration device. 

Indirect Cooling System

An indirect cooling system cools an intermediate fluid. This then freezes or cools an element. 


This is not a component, but it has a crucial part to play. The refrigerant absorbs and releases heat in a commercial refrigeration system. Under certain temperatures and pressures, the refrigerant condenses and evaporates.

Different types of refrigerant are used. Traditionally, it would be Freon that was most commonly used. However, it was found that it damages the ozone layer and many countries, including the US, have banned its use. Other more eco-friendly refrigerant chemicals are starting to be used. Tetrafluoroethane is just one of them.  

How Do Commercial Refrigeration Appliances Work?

Both domestic and commercial refrigeration systems follows the same physical principle. It’s called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. 

The law states that when two things of different temperatures come together, heat travels from the hotter thing to the colder thing. 

When put into practice in a commercial refrigeration unit, it transfers heat from food that’s stored inside into a refrigerant liquid. 

The following steps explain the process in more detail.  


The refrigerant starts its journey in the compressor. This is where it’s compressed and becomes a high-pressure gas. At the same time, the refrigerant’s temperature rises which makes it easier to transfer heat to the outside environment.


The next stage in the refrigerant’s journey is into the condenser. It’s now a hot, high-pressure gas. In the condenser, the refrigerant releases its heat to the outside environment and then condenses back into its liquid form. 


Now it's in liquid form again, the refrigerant flows into the expansion valve. There it’s able to expand rapidly, which causes its temperature and pressure to drop. 


The penultimate stage in the cooling system is when the cool, low-pressure refrigerant flows into the evaporator. There is absorbs heat from inside the refrigerator which in turn causes the refrigerant to evaporate and become a gas. 

Compression (again)

Finally, the low-pressure gas can flow back into the compressor. There the cycle starts all over again. 

What Are the 3 Main Options for Commercial Refrigeration?

There are three main options if you’re looking to purchase the best commercial refrigerator:


Also known as chillers some units keep beverages and food at a temperature between room temperature and freezing. There are walk in coolers and reach in coolers.  


Freezer units keep perishable items frozen completely which means the items are safe to consume and free from spoilage. 

Combination Coolers and Freezers

A combo cooler and freezer perform both functions above. In other words, it can simply “chill” an item or freeze it completely. 

What are the Different Types of Commercial Refrigeration Equipment?

You’ll find many different types of commercial refrigeration units available to choose from. There’s so much variety that you’re bound to find a refrigeration unit that meets your needs. 

Reach-In Vertical Cases and Refrigerators

Reach-in refrigerators and cases can be found in a variety of styles and sizes. You’ll find reach in refrigerators have a wide variety of options such as double doors, glass fronts, moving casters, and dual temperature zones.

A reach in refrigerator is a jack-of-all-trades in the world of refrigeration and a popular option for many business owners. They are very effective for storing perishable items such as fish, meat, and dairy. 

Glass Door Refrigerator

A glass door refrigerator, like its reach-in counterparts, comes in diverse styles and sizes, tailored for visibility and convenience. These units often feature clear glass fronts, enabling easy viewing of contents without opening the door, thereby enhancing energy efficiency. Options include single or double glass doors, adjustable shelving, and illuminated interiors.

Ideal for showcasing beverages or perishable items, they maintain optimal temperatures for items like dairy, deli products, and beverages, making them a versatile and visually appealing choice for many businesses.

Plug-In Enclosed Vending Machines

A plug-in enclosed vending machine allows you to vend refrigerated and frozen foods including refrigerated meals, dairy products, wraps, desserts, and hard-frozen packaged meals all from one vending machine. Products can be delivered to customers at an optimal temperature.  

Semi-Vertical Display Cabinets

With a semi-vertical display cabinet, you get ample storage space and product display capabilities. The layout allows for separate levels of goods on display and can be used for fresh and prepared food products. These refrigerator cabinets have an inclined shape which enhances the visibility of the products. 

Horizontal Cases

Horizontal cases are very user-friendly and at the same time, maintain the highest product visibility and aesthetics. They generally feature a glass front shield that optimizes the merchandiser’s display of beverages, desserts, sandwiches, and fresh salads. 

Deli Cases

Deli cases are refrigerated, glass-fronted cases which sometimes have a curved glass front and glass doors. This type of commercial unit is designed so that you can showcase your best cheeses and deli meats and at the same time keep your food products optimally refrigerated. The display is meant to entice customers to make a purchase. 

Drop-In Coolers

A drop-in cooler is an insulated storage container that’s designed to store bottles, cans, and other beverages together with ice. They work in much the same way as a portable cooler. Fill it with ice and you’re good to go.  

Draft Beer Systems

Draft beer commercial refrigerators maintain the beer at a constant temperature while it’s being stored and then delivered to the pumps. A draft beer cooling system usually includes a refrigerated storage container or area for storing the beer kegs. 

Undercounter Refrigerators

An undercounter refrigerator is one of the smaller options, but it’s great if all you need is a little additional cooling space. What an undercounter refrigerator lacks in size it more than makes up for in terms of convenience. 

Serve Over Counter Refrigerators

These make a good addition to a restaurant where customers are given the option to pick what they want, such as sandwich, pastry, and deli stores. 

Back Bar Coolers

Back bar coolers are also known as back bar refrigerators and are designed with a stainless steel or black exterior to help with the aesthetics of your bar. This type of refrigerator tends to be small, but they’re also very convenient. The staff just have to quickly grab beverages as and when customers request them.  

Display Cases and Refrigerators

A display case and display refrigerator are units that you often can find in retail environments. They allow for clear displaying and storing of products. Typically, they’ll have glass doors which make them perfect for showcasing a variety of perishable goods such as dairy, meat, and other produce. Generally, you’ll find a wide range of configurations and sizes. Some open-air models have no doors.  

Walk In Refrigerators, Coolers, and Freezers

Walk in refrigerators, coolers, and freezers do exactly what it says on the tin. A walk in refrigerator is the perfect solution if you require vast amounts of storage space.

However, a walk-in refrigerator or walk-in freezer can take up a considerable amount of space in a commercial kitchen. You need to be certain your establishment can accommodate one.

Running walk in refrigerators can be expensive, so make sure you choose a walk in cooler with high-quality insulation to help save on energy bills. 

Ice Cream Freezer

An ice cream freezer is a specialized freezer designed specifically for storing and freezing ice cream and other frozen desserts. It maintains the optimal temperature and humidity levels required to keep ice cream frozen and preserve its quality.

Ice cream freezers are important in the food industry, particularly in ice cream shops, restaurants, and dessert establishments. They ensure that ice cream remains at the perfect consistency, preventing it from melting or developing ice crystals.

By maintaining the proper temperature, these freezers help to preserve the flavor, texture, and overall quality of the ice cream, ensuring a delightful and enjoyable dessert experience for customers. Ice cream freezers also play a crucial role in food safety, as they prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and maintain the integrity of the product.

Beverage Coolers

Beverage coolers are popular refrigeration units in restaurants, convenience stores, and bars. The design means you can keep various types of drinks at a specific temperature and ready for consumption at any time. 

There is a range of configurations and sizes to choose from depending on your needs. Options might include larger units that can hold a large selection of drinks and countertop models.  

Ice Machines

If your bar or commercial kitchen requires a constant supply of ice, you need to be looking at ice machines. You’ll find a range of sizes and configurations, including larger units as well as countertop models. There are also air-cooled and water-cooled models available. Potentially, an ice machine can produce hundreds of pounds of ice every day. 

Refrigerated Prep Tables

If you’re running a restaurant and you’d like to keep often-used ingredients near and handy when preparing food, refrigerated prep tables could be what you need. A refrigerated prep table helps to streamline preparation and let your customers know their selection is fresh and cool. 

Blast Chillers

It’s more common to find blast chillers in food service establishments. A unit of this kind rapidly cools down hot food so that it’s a safe temperature. Such a cooling system also helps to prevent bacteria growth and preserves the quality of the food. You can choose from larger units, countertop models, and various other configurations and sizes. 

Rack Refrigerators

Rack refrigerators are designed to display food in places such as supermarkets. It allows the owner to display their food in an appealing way and at the same time make access for customers easy. It should also have sufficient cooling capabilities because the door of the system is likely to be opened multiple times during the day. 

Wine Coolers and Cellars

A wine cooler is an appliance that’s temperature-cooled for the storage of wine. The temperature range of a wine cooler tends to be higher than a refrigerator or beverage cooler. In general, it won’t fall below 46°F. This ensures the flavor of the wine is not ruined.  

Refrigerated Drawers

Refrigerated drawers allow for easy access to any products stored inside. They also allow for better visibility as it can sometimes be a challenge to find what you’re looking for in the crowded shelves inside a counter refrigerator with doors. 

What are Some Common Problems with Commercial Refrigeration Systems?

Commercial refrigeration systems play a key role in regulating the temperature of refrigerated foods. The different types of commercial refrigeration also impact productivity, product safety, and energy bills. However, there are some common issues you may encounter. 

  • Refrigerant leaks: The refrigerant is what cools the air inside the refrigerator system. If this chemical starts leaking it can make the system less efficient, and lose its cooling power. When there is a leak, the compressor has to work harder which increases energy costs and could even result in a total failure of the system.  

  • Electrical problems: Electrical components play a key role in the functioning of a commercial refrigerator system. Electrical problems might include a malfunctioning thermostat, a blown fuse, or a faulty circuit breaker. Such problems may cause the system to shut down or be unable to maintain the correct temperature. 

  • Compressor failure: When the compressor malfunctions, a refrigeration system will stop working. Compressor failure can be caused by many things such as mechanical problems, overheating, and overuse.  

  • Dirty coils: If the coils in a refrigeration system become clogged or dirty, they won’t be able to perform correctly. Their job is to transfer heat out of the system and when they can’t do their job effectively, it can lead to reduced cooling power. In turn, the compressor has to work harder which increases the running costs and the risk of potential system failures. 

  • Evaporator coil problems: If the evaporator coil isn’t working properly it means the unit won’t be able to dissipate heat efficiently. The refrigerator may not work efficiently and may even stop working completely. 

  • Motor defects: A defective motor is one of the leading reasons behind a refrigerator not working. In many cases, the refrigerator unit will shit down immediately and you won’t get it to start again. 

  • Thermostat issues: A faulty thermostat means it can’t transmit start signals to the start capacitor and the refrigerator won’t turn on. 

  • Systems using too much electricity: If a refrigerator system is using more than expected amounts of electricity it’s a good indicator of problems in other areas of the refrigeration system. 

  • Condenser problems: Condenser problems can result in higher running costs and longer operation. 

How to Decide if You Need to Repair or Replace Your Refrigeration Unit?

There are a handful of signs you should look out for as they may indicate you need to repair or replace your commercial refrigeration unit.

  • Excessive frost or condensation: These could indicate that your refrigerator is not cooling properly and not functioning well. First, examine the rubber sealing to see if it needs replacing. Other reasons for excessive condensation or frost include poor temperature settings and maintenance. 

  • Severe motor defects: Many refrigerator issues start with motor failures. These can be caused by dirty coils or a failing temperature control board. 

  • Excessive food expiration: Food spoilage and expiry are good signs that a refrigerator is about to break down. It might be a case of replacing the gasket. However, it could be a more serious problem.

  • Unresponsive temperature settings: A commercial refrigerator generally operates at zero degrees. If it appears to be lower than that or ice formation is becoming an issue, it could lead to further issues, 

  • High electricity bills: Higher than usual energy consumption could be due to a refrigerator defect. 

How Long does Commercial Refrigeration Last?

The lifespan of commercial refrigerators is a crucial aspect for businesses relying on consistent and efficient refrigeration. Generally, these vital appliances, when maintained properly, can last between 10 to 15 years. This average lifespan, however, can vary based on several factors:

  1. Brand Quality: High-quality brands often offer refrigerators that last longer due to better build quality.
  2. Maintenance Practices: Regular cleaning, servicing, and addressing maintenance issues, including checking condenser coils and door gaskets, play a significant role in extending the life of refrigerators.
  3. Usage Patterns: The frequency and manner of use, including how often the doors are opened and how the unit is stocked, impact its longevity.
  4. Environmental Conditions: Placement in cooler areas away from direct sunlight and high-temperature zones helps in preserving the refrigerator's efficiency and lifespan.

What are Some Commercial Refrigeration Maintenance Tips?

If you want your commercial refrigeration equipment to run efficiently, it will require regular maintenance. Added benefits of regular cleaning are that the different types of commercial refrigeration systems will last longer and running costs could be as much as 5% to 10% less. You’ll find some useful tips in the equipment’s manual, but for your convenience, here are some tips:

  • Replacing parts before they wear out will be cheaper than calling for an emergency repair should they fail unexpectedly.

  • Fans and other moving parts in the refrigerated space require regular checkups because they are more susceptible to wear and tear.

  • Check fuse boxes, connections, and wiring to ensure they’re safe and up to date.

  • Ice build-up can be an issue because it attracts mold and viruses. Ice build-up is often caused by leaking water.

  • If your refrigerator unit has an automatic self-cleaning cycle, get an experienced maintenance engineer to take it apart and clean it twice a year. 

  • Regular cleaning of assemblies such as the condenser and evaporator coils will minimize the risk of failure and reduce the compressor load. 

  • Check the doors close properly.

  • Check the seals are air-tight, and that the handles and gaskets work properly.  

Which Industries Need Commercial Refrigeration?

Commercial refrigeration systems can be found in a wide range of places. Most commonly, you’ll find them in the following locations:

  • Food and beverage companies

  • Supermarkets

  • Flower stores

  • Convenience stores

  • Grocery stores

  • Restaurants

  • Food preparation companies

  • Warehouses

  • Hotels

  • Meat lockers

  • Malls 

  • Pharmaceutical facilities

  • In the back of cold storage trucks 

What Types of Commercial Refrigeration are Crucial for a Restaurant Business?

Commercial refrigeration is essential for a restaurant business, but what type exactly will best suit your needs? One or more of the following might be suitable:

  • Commercial upright freezer and fridge

  • Commercial refrigeration drawer or an under-counter fridge

  • Walk-in refrigerator

  • Reach-in refrigerator

  • Chest freezer

  • Ice cream freezer

What are the Operating Temperatures of Commercial Refrigeration?

Maintaining optimal commercial refrigerator temperature is paramount for food safety and quality. For commercial refrigerators, the ideal temperature range is between 32°F and 40°F (0°C to 4°C). This range is crucial in slowing the growth of bacteria and preserving the nutrient content of food products.

In commercial freezers, temperatures should be kept at 0°F (-18°C) or below to prevent freezer burn and spoilage. Regular temperature monitoring is essential in these refrigeration units to ensure consistency.

Staff members should be trained in understanding these temperature guidelines and the importance of maintaining them to prevent the danger zone, which is between 40°F and 140°F (4°C to 60°C), where bacteria can grow rapidly. 

What is the Difference Between Commercial and Industrial Refrigeration?

Commercial refrigeration and industrial refrigeration may sound similar but there are very different. The main difference is that the temperatures they need to maintain are very different. 

In a commercial establishment, food is sold to the public. They include places such as restaurants, bars, and similar venues. Commercial refrigerators tend to be designed to keep perishable goods at temperatures between -18 and 20ºC. 

Industrial refrigeration equipment, on the other hand, can reach -60ºC and to maintain such temperature extremes, they are usually more powerful and larger. 

Commercial refrigeration systems typically have one compressor whereas industrial refrigeration systems tend to have multiple compressors. 

The refrigerants used also differ. Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants are used in commercial refrigeration units. In industrial refrigeration units, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and other natural refrigerants are more commonly used. 

In terms of maintenance and repair, commercial systems are generally simpler and require much less maintenance than industrial systems.  

What is the Difference Between Commercial and Residential Refrigeration?

The main difference between commercial and residential refrigeration is in the size of the compressor. The compressor in a commercial refrigerator is more powerful than in a home refrigerator and can withstand continuous use. This also means a commercial refrigerator can maintain a consistent temperature more effectively and with minimal effect on the performance or the quality of the food. 

How to Choose the Right Type of Commercial Refrigeration for Your Business Needs?

Whether your business is a convenience store, bar, restaurant, or some other kind of catering business, need commercial refrigeration for your stock and to protect your customers’ health and safety. 

There are many different types, but if you consider the following factors when choosing a commercial refrigerator, you should find your decision easier to make:

  • Space needs: Take measurements and try to make the best use of the available space. 

  • Storage type: Which storage type you use depends on your business. Retail outlets tend to require display units. A restaurant might require a cold room or a high-capacity freezer or refrigerator. 

  • Features and functions: Ease of use is a key consideration. Look for features and functions that make things easier for your staff. Accessible temperature controls, adjustable shelving, and ease of cleaning are just some aspects to consider. 

  • Cost of operation: Only buy your equipment from a reputable seller, especially if you’re considering used refrigeration equipment. 

  • What temperature is required for your products:

  • Brand names: Off-brand models are always tempting because they’re usually much cheaper. However, buying a recognized brand name usually tends to be better value in terms of resale value, availability of parts, and ease of servicing. 

  • Energy efficiency: A more up-to-date model is likely to be a more energy efficient refrigerator, making them a good investment in the long run. 

Which are Some of the Top Commercial Refrigeration Manufacturers

Some of the top commercial refrigeration manufacturers include:

  • Blizzard

  • Polar

  • Polar

  • Fagor

  • Coldline

  • Emerson

  • Carrier

  • Danfoss

  • Daikin

Kitchenall, a leading supplier of commercial refrigerators, offers units from some of the most trusted brands like Coldline, Arctic Air, Turbo Air and Everest. Our mission is to provide only the best commercial refrigerators for your business.


Commercial refrigeration plays a vital role in any food service business. This quick and easy guide should have cleared up any questions you have and act as a jump-off point to help you decide which type of refrigeration unit is best for you. 

If you need further help to find commercial refrigeration systems for your business, don’t be afraid to get in touch with one of our friendly customer service representatives.


1. What refrigerant is used in commercial refrigeration?

In the realm of commercial refrigeration, the refrigerant most commonly utilized is R-404A. This refrigerant is favored due to its efficacy in a broad range of temperature applications, making it suitable for refrigeration equipment in grocery stores, convenience stores, and other commercial settings. Its widespread use is driven by its compatibility with various refrigeration systems, including those in walk-in coolers and freezers.

2. What is a commercial refrigerator with R-134a?

A commercial refrigerator employing R-134a is engineered for efficiency in refrigeration cycles, particularly in settings like supermarkets and restaurants. R-134a, a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), is known for its environmental friendliness, lower contribution to global warming, and ability to maintain stable temperatures.

3. Do commercial fridges use more power?

Commercial refrigerators indeed consume more power compared to their residential counterparts. Typically, these refrigeration units utilize approximately 3 to 5 kilowatts per hour, a figure that can vary based on factors like size and usage intensity. This increased energy use is attributable to their larger capacity and the continuous operation needed in commercial environments like grocery stores and restaurants.

4. How often should you service a commercial refrigerator?

It's recommended to service a commercial refrigeration unit at least once a year. This servicing includes checking compressors, condenser coils, and other critical components. Regular maintenance helps in identifying potential motor defects or issues with the refrigeration cycle, ensuring consistent performance and preventing food spoilage.

5. How long will a commercial refrigerator stay cold without power?

 In the event of a power outage, a well-maintained commercial refrigerator can typically retain its cold temperature for about 4 to 6 hours. This duration can vary based on factors like the refrigerator's insulation quality, external temperature, and how often the doors are opened.