Commercial refrigeration is energy hungry; and energy costs in the cold chain influences profitability. Studies estimate that 15% of the world’s electricity is used for the refrigeration of food. According to the Equipment Energy Efficiency (E3) program, commercial refrigeration consumes approximately the same quantity of electricity as the combined total of all residential lighting and refrigeration in Australia and New Zealand.  Commercial refrigeration is estimated to account for 4% of emissions from Australia’s energy sector and 6% of emissions in New Zealand. With rising energy costs and growing environmental concerns, the pressure is on to reduce energy use.

In response to growing demand for energy efficiency, the commercial refrigeration industry has offered:  ECO Mode. But look before your leap.

ECO Mode can operate in different ways. For example, some are pre-programmed (e.g. ECO mode starts at normal store closing time); and some ‘smart’ fridges include controllers that ‘learn’ when to automatically make energy saving adjustments to operating parameters.

But how does the refrigeration unit know what product-level temperature will sustain food safety and product integrity? The answer, of course is that it doesn’t. And that’s where problems can start.

ECO Mode can put food safety and shelf-life at risk

ECO Mode can put food safety and shelf-life at risk

Recently, one of our customers installed a new fridge. But they weren’t told about the ECO Mode setting.

With CCP installed in the fridge, our system analytics identified a disturbing temperature pattern. Temperature tolerances in this new (very expensive) fridge were being regularly breached (in one case for 6 hours. The shop owner investigated the issue and the cause was quickly found. A licensed refrigeration mechanic installed the new fridge with ECO Mode switched on. At night, when there was minimal movement and fridge door events, the fridge controller’s ECO Mode fuzzy logic kicked-in and decided it didn’t need to keep the fridge as cold. But unfortunately, the fridge ECO Mode didn’t consider food safety regulations and the need to maximise product shelf-life. So, the ‘smart fridge’ wasn’t so smart after all.

Fortunately, our customer took immediate steps to have product relocated and the fridge reprogrammed. ECO Mode is no longer used.

The question is: how many food businesses are inappropriately using ECO Mode in their commercial refrigeration?

Manual temperature checks will not detect issues unless you check the product-level temperature when the fridge is in its low-energy mode.

With continuous (so-called ‘real-time’) 24/7 temperature monitoring, these types of issues are easily detected.  And with CCP installed, you can use business intelligence to minimise energy consumption by safely optimising refrigeration equipment.

Our tip: If you are storing high-risk perishable food products in a commercial refrigeration with ECO Mode, check to see that you’re not comprising food safety and reducing product shelf-life.