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How does a commercial refrigeration system work?

Your refrigerator is responsible for keeping your restaurant inventory at the optimal temperature, so it remains fresh and free from harmful bacteria. But have you ever wondered how commercial refrigeration systems work? To familiarize yourself with your lowboy, walk-in, and cold rail, we’ve put together this quick and helpful guide covering everything you need to know.

So, how does a refrigerator work?

How can a refrigerator be so cold inside, yet when you place your hand at its back, the components are warm? Your refrigerator contains what is known as refrigerant, which is a fluid that can quickly vaporize from a liquid into a gas and vice versa.


Your refrigerator pressurizes, condenses, and evaporates the refrigerant in a closed circuit to remove heat and reduce the temperature inside the fridge. This process of turning a gas into a liquid and vice-versa is constantly occurring within your refrigerator. Yet, it would not be possible without several vital components.

Important refrigerator components and what they do

Compressor: The compressor acts as a central component of your refrigerator. Gas at low pressure and low temperature enters the compressor, and it is then compressed to a higher pressure, causing its temperature to rise.


Condenser: This hot gas transfers to the condenser coils, where the heat subsides and turns into a liquid. The addition of cooling ventilation fins located on the back of the refrigerator unit also aids in this effort.


Capillary tube: The liquid refrigerant is channeled through the expansion valve and capillary tube and sprayed into the low-pressure environment of the evaporator.


Evaporator: The evaporator is the component that makes the items within the fridge cold. As the cold liquid absorbs the warmth from the air inside the refrigerator, it turns back into a low-temperature gas. In doing so, it cools the area around it, producing the appropriate environment for cold food storage.


Thermostat: The thermostat has an essential job within your refrigerator, and that is to monitor and control the entire cooling process. When the thermostat sensor detects that it's cold enough inside the refrigerator, it turns off the compressor. If it senses too much heat, it switches the compressor to commence the cooling process again, thus maintaining a stable temperature.

What happens when commercial refrigerator components break down?

The refrigeration process is a repetitive cycle that relies upon the key components working in perfect synchronicity.


Therefore, serious problems can arise if even just one of these components breaks down or fails to work at its total capacity.  Two of the most common occurrences are energy wastage, which causes a higher-than-necessary utility bill for your business, and spoiled inventory, which can cost restaurants thousands of dollars each year.


Thankfully, there are several warning signs you can be on the lookout for to determine if your refrigerator may be breaking down. Red flags include:


  • Irregular sounds
  • Excessive build-up of ice
  • Overheating exterior
  • A decrease in food quality, such as mold
  • Leaks
  • Excessive wear and tear

Why temperature monitoring is an essential part of your commercial refrigeration system

It’s vital to keep an eye on the temperatures of your commercial freezers and fridges through an accurate and reliable form of temperature monitoring – whether through an aftermarket sensor or one contained internally within the system.


One of the very first signs of refrigeration system failure is an inability to maintain the correct temperature. Not only can temperature monitoring allow you to seek proper maintenance for your fridge before repairs become even more costly, but it can also save the lifeblood of your hospitality business: your inventory.


Storage temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Fahrenheit can spoil sensitive items such as greens or meats in less than 2 hours, while warmer temperatures allow bacteria to thrive and multiply every 20 minutes. Therefore, you should take even the first signs of component malfunctions seriously.

How smart temperature sensors help your commercial refrigeration system perform better

Temperature monitoring has always been part of the hospitality industry, traditionally through manual thermometer temperature checks. Unfortunately, manual temperature checks put inventory at risk through human error, inaccurate readings, or equipment failure. To eliminate loss and improve profits, restaurateurs and fast-casual franchises have turned to a new solution — smart temperature sensors.


Smart temperature sensors automatically record the temperature of refrigeration equipment, reducing traditional temperature management issues. Therma° is a smart temperature sensor built specifically with restaurants in mind. Developed to perform inside coolers, freezers, and other harsh environments, Therma° smart temperature sensors are easy to use.


Therma° saves valuable employee time spent on daily temperature checks for other tasks. It also prevents equipment downtime by catching issues before they happen. Combining these benefits reduces product loss resulting from equipment failures, power outages, and human error.  


To see for yourself how Therma° can help your commercial refrigeration system perform better, click below to buy online.