Understanding the Basics of Commercial Refrigeration and How it Works?

Posted: September 28, 2023

Ever wonder how does refrigeration work in commercial restaurants?

Commercial refrigeration is an essential part of many businesses and industries. The process of commercial refrigeration involves the use of various components, including compressors, evaporators, condensers, and refrigerants, which work together to regulate the temperature and humidity inside the refrigerated space. PartsFe offers a wide selection of high-quality commercial refrigerator manufacturers' parts at competitive prices.

Compressors compressing and circulating the refrigerant, while evaporators and condensers help to absorb and release heat. The refrigerant absorbs heat from the refrigerated space and transfers it to the condenser, where it is released into the surrounding environment.

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Understanding the basics of commercial kitchen refrigeration and how does refrigeration works is essential for businesses and individuals who rely on refrigeration systems to store and preserve temperature-sensitive products. It enables them to make informed decisions when it comes to selecting, installing, and maintaining commercial refrigeration units, ensuring that they operate efficiently and effectively over time.

Table of contents:

What are the different types of commercial refrigeration?

There are various types of commercial refrigeration systems available, each with its own unique features and advantages. They are:

Walk-In Coolers and Freezers

In a walk-in cooler or freezer, you can store large quantities of perishable goods. These systems are ideal for restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses that require cold storage for their inventory. Walk-in coolers and freezers are available in a range of sizes and can be customized to meet your specific needs.

Reach-In Refrigerators and Freezers

Commonly found in commercial kitchens and retail stores, these units are designed to fit in tight spaces. Reach-in refrigerators and freezers come in a variety of configurations including single, double, and triple door models.

Display Cases

Display cases are commercial refrigeration units that are commonly used in retail environments to display and store products. These units are typically designed with glass doors and are perfect for showcasing perishable items like meat, dairy, and produce. Display cases come in various sizes and configurations, including open-air models that do not have doors.

Beverage Coolers

Beverage coolers are a popular type of commercial refrigeration unit used in restaurants, bars, and convenience stores. These units are designed to keep drinks at a specific temperature, making them ready for immediate consumption. Beverage coolers are available in a variety of sizes and configurations, including countertop models and larger units that can hold a large inventory of drinks.

Ice Machines

Ice machines are essential in any commercial kitchen or bar that requires a constant supply of ice. They come in various sizes and configurations, including countertop models and larger units. Also, they can produce hundreds of pounds of ice per day. These commercial kitchen refrigerators are available in both air-cooled and water-cooled models.

Refrigerated Prep Tables

Refrigerated prep tables are commonly found in commercial kitchens and are used for preparing salads, sandwiches, and other cold dishes. These units are designed with a refrigerated compartment where ingredients can be stored, and a prep area where food can be prepared. Refrigerated prep tables are available in various sizes and configurations, including models with cutting boards, drawers, and shelves.

Blast Chillers

Blast chillers are commonly used in food service environments. These units are designed to rapidly cool down hot food to a safe temperature, preventing bacterial growth and preserving the quality of the food. Blast chillers come in various sizes and configurations, including countertop models and larger units that can hold multiple pans of food.

Components of a commercial refrigeration system

These systems consist of several essential parts of refrigeration systems that work together seamlessly to achieve this goal. Here are the key components of a typical commercial refrigeration system:


One of the essential parts of a refrigeration system is the compressor, which plays a crucial role in circulating the refrigerant and maintaining the desired temperature. It pushes the compressed refrigerant gas through the system. The gas releases heat as a result of being squeezed because it becomes hotter. The refrigerant must be transferred from the evaporator to the condenser by the compressor in order to release heat into the environment.


The heat that is taken from the chilled compartment is released by the condenser. It is a heat exchanger that radiates heat out into the environment from the refrigerant. The condenser, which is often found on the building's outside, is made up of a number of coils or fins that enable the refrigerant to release heat to the surrounding air or water.


The evaporator is in charge of taking heat out of the commercial restaurant refrigerator. The evaporator, which is often found inside the refrigerator, is made up of a number of coils or fins that enable the refrigerant to collect heat from the surrounding air or water.

Expansion Valve

The expansion valve is in charge of controlling the refrigerant flow into the evaporator. It is a device that lowers the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant to regulate the flow into the evaporator. The evaporator receives the refrigerant at the proper pressure and temperature to absorb heat from the chilled space thanks to the expansion valve.


The substance that absorbs and releases heat in the commercial kitchen refrigeration system is known as the refrigerant. It is a chemical substance that, under particular pressures and temperatures, condenses and evaporates. 


It controls the temperature in the refrigerator. By detecting the temperature in the area, it sends signals to the control board to turn on/off the compressor. The thermostat makes sure that the interior temperature of the commercial restaurant refrigerator is stable and stays within the appropriate range.

What is the difference between commercial and industrial refrigeration?

Commercial refrigeration refers to the cooling systems used in businesses that deal with food and beverages, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and supermarkets. These are smaller and have lower cooling capacities. 

Industrial refrigeration, on the other hand, refers to the cooling systems used in large-scale operations such as chemical manufacturing plants, cold storage facilities, and pharmaceutical production facilities. These are typically larger and have higher cooling capacities. 

Differences in Design and Components

Commercial and industrial refrigeration systems differ significantly in their design and the components they use. For instance, commercial refrigeration systems typically have a single compressor, while industrial refrigeration systems have multiple compressors. This is because industrial systems are larger and require more cooling power, so multiple compressors are used to provide the necessary cooling capacity.

Refrigerants also differ significantly. Commercial refrigeration systems typically use hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. They are suitable for small-scale operations since they have low global warming potential. Industrial refrigeration systems, on the other hand, use ammonia, carbon dioxide, or other natural refrigerants. These refrigerants are more environmentally friendly and have higher cooling capacities than HFCs.

In terms of components, commercial refrigeration systems typically use standard components such as thermostats, evaporators, and condensers. Industrial refrigeration systems, on the other hand, may require custom-made components to meet specific cooling requirements.

Differences in Applications

Commercial kitchen refrigerators are designed for use in small-scale operations where food and beverages need to be kept at low temperatures. These systems are commonly used in restaurants, convenience stores, and supermarkets. They are used to cool and store food items such as meat, fish, and dairy products, as well as beverages such as beer and soda.

Industrial refrigeration systems, on the other hand, are used in large-scale operations where large volumes of products need to be kept at very low temperatures. Facilities such as cold storage, chemical manufacturing, and pharmaceutical production normally use these systems. They are used to cool and store products such as chemicals, vaccines, and other pharmaceuticals.

Differences in Maintenance and Repair

Commercial kitchen refrigerators are typically simpler and require less maintenance than industrial systems. They are designed to be serviced quickly and efficiently, so businesses can resume their operations as soon as possible.

Industrial refrigeration systems, on the other hand, are more complex and require more maintenance. They typically have more components and larger cooling capacities, which means they need to be serviced more frequently. Additionally, because they are used in critical applications such as pharmaceutical production, they must be maintained to the highest standards to prevent any downtime or product loss.

Also, read to know more about Better To Repair Or Replace A Refrigerator.

What are the common issues of commercial refrigeration?

Like any other system, commercial kitchen refrigerators can have issues that may impact its performance, efficiency, and longevity. 

Refrigerant Leaks

Refrigerant is a chemical that is used to cool the air inside the system. If it starts to leak, it can cause the system to lose its cooling power, which can lead to spoilage of products. Leaks can also make the compressor work harder than it should, increasing energy costs and sometimes even leading to system failure.

Electrical Problems

Commercial refrigeration systems rely on electrical components to function, which can also cause problems if they fail. It could be anything from a malfunctioning thermostat to a blown fuse or circuit breaker. The system may be shut down completely or unevenly managed.

Compressor Failure

The refrigeration system will completely stop operating if the compressor malfunctions. Many things, such as overuse, overheating, or mechanical problems, can lead to compressor failure.

Dirty Coils

The coils in the refrigeration system are responsible for transferring heat out of the system. If they become dirty or clogged, they may not be able to do their job effectively, which can lead to a reduction in the cooling power of the system. Causes the compressor to work harder and leads to increase in energy bills and potential system failures. 

Improper Maintenance

Regular maintenance is crucial to the longevity and performance of commercial refrigeration systems. Without proper maintenance, small issues can go unnoticed and turn into larger, more costly problems. 

Regular inspections by a trained technician can help prevent and address these issues. 

Top commercial refrigeration manufacturers in USA

When it comes to commercial refrigeration manufacturers in the USA, there are a few top players in the industry. Some of the well-known brands include True, Manitowoc, Turbo-Air, Traulsen and Beverage-Air. 

True is a leading manufacturer of commercial refrigeration equipment and is known for their quality and durability. They offer a wide range of refrigeration products, including reach-in refrigerators, display cases, and under-counter refrigerators. 

True commercial refrigerator parts at PartsFe are readily available for those in need of replacement parts. Manitowoc and Beverage-Air are also popular brands that offer a variety of refrigeration solutions for different industries. With PartsFe, you can invest in high-quality equipment and utilize reliable commercial refrigeration parts to ensure the longevity of your investment, regardless of the brand.

How to choose the right type of commercial refrigerator for your business needs?

Choosing the right type of commercial restaurant refrigerator can be a challenging task. Here are some key things to keep in mind when choosing a commercial refrigerator for your business needs:

Consider your space and layout: Before selecting a refrigerator, you need to consider the amount of space available in your kitchen and how the refrigerator will fit into your layout. Measure the space where the refrigerator will be located and ensure that the unit you choose will fit in the available space. Also, consider the type of door that will work best for your kitchen space. Will you need a reach-in or walk-in unit? Will a sliding door be more practical than a swinging door?

Determine your storage needs: Determine the amount of storage space required for your food products. It is influenced by the size of your restaurant, the volume of food prepared, and the types of food you need to store. For example, if you specialize in fresh produce, you may need a larger refrigerator with separate compartments for fruits and vegetables. If you need to store frozen products, you may need a freezer with multiple compartments and adjustable shelving.

Choose the right type of refrigeration system: There are different types of refrigeration systems available, and the one you choose will depend on your needs and preferences. The most common types of refrigeration systems are top-mounted, bottom-mounted, and side-mounted. Top-mounted systems are ideal for areas with high humidity, while bottom-mounted systems are easier to maintain and clean. Side-mounted systems are ideal for kitchens with limited ceiling height.

Look for energy-efficient models: Energy costs can be a significant expense for any restaurant, and choosing an energy-efficient refrigerator can help reduce your costs. Look for models that have an Energy Star rating, which means they meet energy-efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Consider the quality of the unit: A commercial restaurant refrigerator is a significant investment, and you want to choose a model that is built to last. Select units with high-quality materials and features such as digital thermostats, adjustable shelves, and self-closing doors.

Consider the warranty and service: A good warranty can give you peace of mind that your investment is protected. Search for models with a warranty that includes both parts and labor. The accessibility of service and maintenance assistance is another important factor. Make sure the model you select is one that a skilled technician can simply service.

Commercial refrigeration plays a crucial role in preserving perishable goods and ensuring their safe consumption. Understanding the commercial refrigeration basics is essential for anyone who deals with refrigeration equipment, from business owners to technicians, to ensure the proper functioning and maintenance of the system.


What are the key elements of commercial refrigeration basics?

Commercial refrigeration basics encompass understanding the core components and principles of refrigeration systems used in various businesses. It involves knowledge of components like compressors, evaporators, condensers, and the principles of heat transfer and refrigerant cycles.

What is the ideal commercial refrigerator temperature range for food safety?

The ideal commercial refrigerator temperature range for food safety typically falls between 34°F to 40°F (1°C to 4°C) to slow bacterial growth and maintain food quality.

How has commercial refrigeration technology advanced in recent years?

Commercial refrigeration technology has advanced significantly in recent years with the adoption of energy-efficient compressors, digital temperature controls, and smart monitoring systems, leading to improved performance and sustainability.

Can you recommend some reputable commercial refrigeration manufacturers in the USA?

Some reputable commercial refrigeration manufacturers USA include True Manufacturing, Beverage-Air, etc are known for their quality and innovative cooling solutions.