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Worktables & Shelves: Get organized!

Worktables and shelving are some of the most basic items of kitchen equipment. This month, we’ll look at various features and how best to spend money on these items and get the equipment that meets the needs of your operation.

Worktables & Counters
Most foodservice worktables or counters and all their components are made of stainless steel. A worktable is a stainless top with legs and structural bracing and perhaps an undershelf. A workcounter has a similar top as a table but a box- type base with multiple shelves, cabinets, refrigerated compartments or other features under the top. Counters generally rest on six- or eight-inch-high legs, just high enough to clean under. The work top of both the counter and table is generally 34" to 36" above the floor. These heights have been found to be a comfortable working distance for standing employees.

Worktables and counters are available in a wide variety of sizes. Worktable construction is an important factor in determining the amount of use an item can stand up to and still function. Thickness of the stainless steel used is a very important factor in how rugged a table will be. Stainless steel thickness is measured by its “gauge,” with a smaller number being a thicker sheet.

Worktables and counters for heavy-duty use are usually constructed with 14-gauge stainless steel tops, 16-gauge horizontal shelf surfaces and 18-gauge vertical body and liner parts. Lighter duty tables, perfectly suitable for many uses, will usually have 16-gauge tops. Welding, bracing, and reinforcing of shelves, tops and other components also determine a table’s strength.

A variety of accessories may also be purchased. Popular items include undershelves, sinks and overshelves. Undershelves and overshelves will increase kitchen storage space without increasing floor area. Remember to leave out shelving under tables where rolling equipment is stored, and also leave off the overshelves where tall equipment, such as coffee urns may be positioned.

Stainless steel drawers are also a popular option. Counter bases can have refrigerated compartments or heated shelves that can be custom built into the counter to the precise size needed. Other compartments for controls or compressors for items in the counter may be located where needed for easy access.

The shelving of choice has long been wire or flat shelving. A more recent addition to the market is the molded and polymer shelving. Wire shelving is reasonably priced, allows for enhanced air circulation around food product and is strong enough to hold most normal kitchen storage loads. The disadvantage is that wire shelving can be difficult and time-consuming to clean.

Flat or solid shelving have been the choice of many
who want an easy-cleaning, heavy-duty shelf. The solid shelf eliminates the possibility of food product spilling from one shelf and contaminating product below. Solid shelving, however, can restrict air movement around food product and is often more expensive than wire shelving of a similar finish.

Solid shelving is available in various thicknesses of metal, which can vary the loading capacity of the units. A variation of the flat or solid shelf exists to aid air circulation. The embossed shelf is a solid shelf with a pattern or ridges stamped into the surface that will raise products off the flat shelf and allow more air circulation than a standard flat shelf. Some shelves even have slots cut in to facilitate better air circulation. The slotted shelf, however, may allow spilled liquid to drip to shelves below like wire shelving. Most solid shelving has a lip around the perimeter of the shelf to help contain spills.

A relatively new addition to the shelving market is a variation on the solid flat or embossed shelving, which is ideal from a sanitation aspect. New technology has provided new, high-grade synthetics and polymers. Polymers, similar to plastics but stronger, are non-corrosive and can withstand high temperatures. The solid shelving is generally a one-piece, pre-fabricated mat that sits inside a heavy-duty reinforced perimeter frame. The mat itself can be easily removed and cleaned as necessary. Open grid-type mats are also available, which are similar to steel wire shelving in that they are strong, yet open for good air circulation.

All three basic shelving types can meet the primary need operators have for strength and durability. Aside from strength, three shelving concerns rank high on operators’ list of concerns.

First, sanitation and how to keep shelving clean with minimal effort has been a concern to operators and health departments alike. By its nature, shelving has crevices and components that make cleaning difficult. The bulkiness of many shelving units also make cleaning difficult. Look for and purchase shelving with an NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) label for cleanable, sanitary shelf construction.

Second, flexibility is key. Many kitchens lack adequate space, and the storage areas are often spaces that suffer. While shelving itself won’t give you more space, a good choice of shelving can help you maximize the area you do have. Several shelving widths and heights are also usually available.

Another tip: Utilize the height in the storeroom. Most shelving sold is six feet or less in height, but most manufacturers make heights of seven feet and sometimes more. If you have the head room, use the taller uprights and add an additional shelf to increase storage capacity. Shelving width is also a consideration in getting the most efficiency out of your shelving layout.

Consider the type of product to be stored and choose the best width to match your storage needs. For example, if you are storing cases of #10 cans, 18" shelving is a good size for the cases, which are just fractionally longer than 18".

Using the most advantageous shelving lengths is important. Four-foot lengths are a good standard to use. Smaller shelving lengths tend to be less efficient and more costly per foot of usable space. Longer shelves will often have less weight holding capacity because of the spans to be supported. Most importantly, though, use the combination of shelving lengths necessary to fill your space completely.

High density shelving is
a feature offered by many manufacturers who puts the shelving on tracks so you can access an aisle by rolling shelving to the desired point. Some manufacturers use an overhead track and others use a floor track to keep shelving aligned. The benefits of using high density shelving depend greatly on comparing how different shelving layouts work in your storage space. Some room configurations can increase storage capacity by up to 50%, while others only 20%. You need to weigh the approximately 20% additional cost with the extra capacity to determine if high density is right for your application.
The third important concern is cost. Operators need to weigh carefully the trade-offs in initial cost to purchase heavy-duty shelving with the on-going maintenance or replacement costs involved when shelving fails or corrodes. The cost of the material or finish of the shelving also dramatically affects the suitability for various storage needs.

Most manufacturers make shelving in a variety of finishes or styles and the biggest difference in cost is between the various finish types. Stainless steel shelving, either flat or wire, is generally the most expensive and can run twice as much or more over the cost of chrome-plated steel shelving. However, it is non-corrosive and long-lasting. Stainless steel is solid throughout and therefore has no finish to chip or wear off. Hard synthetic coatings, usually baked on for a permanent finish, are available on wire shelving and on a few makes of flat shelving.

The polymer type shelving falls into a similar price range with synthetic coated steel shelving. Chrome-plated shelving is less costly, but still does a suitable job and is fairly corrosion-resistant. Other steel coatings like zinc or galvanized are less expensive than chrome, but are more apt to corrode. These coated shelving units may be acceptable in a dry goods room for storing case goods, but would not hold up long in a humid refrigerated atmosphere or where food acids and salts may come in contact with shelving.

The selection of particular units that meet your operational needs best will ultimately make your establishment work smoothly and increase employee productivity.

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