Maintaining an Open-Air Cooler

Open-Air coolers in use

By – The Editor

Many food retailers and take-out restaurants prefer open-air coolers to other cooling options. The pleasing open display case provides customers with an immediate view of merchandise, making it easier to grab what they need and increase the average basket size. However, the “air walls” used to maintain cooling temperatures can be sensitive. Therefore, it is critical to understand how to prevent temperature fluctuations that allow bacteria to form.

Here, General Parts Group offers a straightforward guide reviewing the types of open-air coolers available with safe open-air cooler maintenance tips.

Types of Open-Air Coolers

There are three types of open-air coolers:

1. Horizontal Open-Air Coolers

Horizontal models are ideal for retailers with a larger footprint, as they are the widest of the three varieties. Some come with additional shelf space above the cooling area, offering a cross-selling opportunity for items such as crackers for cheese or bread for deli meats.

2. Vertical Open-Air Coolers

Vertical open-air merchandisers are taller than they are wide, offering up to nine shelves to leverage unused wall space while optimizing limited floor space.

3. Under-Counter Open-Air Coolers

These coolers are designed for grab-and-go products sold at the counter, such as cold drinks at takeout restaurants or convenience stores. Although bacteria are not as much of a concern here, providing cold drinks for customers helps improve satisfaction.

Open-Air Cooler Setup

Load with Cold Items Only

When using an Open-Air cooler, it is important to load it with a product that is already at its optimal holding temperature as this type of cooler is designed to only keep cold items cold.  It is not meant to cool the product down.

Location – Location – Location

The location of the Open-Air cooler is critical to the operation of the unit.  As is the case with any type of refrigerator, the open refrigerator needs to breathe.  Ensure the area where you are installing the unit will provide appropriate ventilation based on where the cooler’s exhaust panel is located and is at least four inches from the wall for optimal circulation.

The location of the unit’s compressor must also be considered when planning the placement of the Open-Air cooler.  Many units are designed with bottom-mounted compressors, while others may have a remote compressor.

No Disrupted Airflow Allowed

The Open-Air cooler creates an air wall that protects its contents from unsanitary items as well as maintains its temperature.  It is important to ensure the unit is placed in an area where the air flow will not disrupt the air curtain from such things as a doorway, vents, or fans.

Open-Air Cooler Maintenance and Care

You can optimize performance efficiency with these basic open-air cooler maintenance tips:


Refrigerant should last as long as your cooler. However, refrigerant leaks can present a risk for temperature inconsistencies, injuries, and potential store damage. If you suspect a leak, call your open-air refrigerator repair company right away.

Condenser Coils

Condenser coils need to be clean for the unit to operate efficiently. Cleaning the coils is something that sounds like it can be a DIY task, in reality, it is a sensitive job that if done incorrectly can cause harm to the unit.  This is something you should have a trained service technician conduct.

Cleaning Precautions

The condenser, evaporator coils, and refrigerant tubing require regular cleaning but can be easily damaged during the cleaning process. Arrange to have intermittent cleaning scheduled with your open-air cooler maintenance provider to ensure cleaning is performed properly.

Cleaning Shelving and Boxes

Harsh detergents can damage the unit and contaminate food. Follow these safe cleaning best practices:

  • Use a mix of warm water and a bit of dishwashing liquid
  • Remove the racks
  • Dip a soft cloth in the cleaning solution to wipe down the cooler box
  • Rinse the racks with water and dry thoroughly
  • Use a clean and dry soft cloth to dry the box surfaces

For involved cleaning, such as spills, unplug the unit to be safe. Also, if cleaning takes longer than 90 minutes, be sure food items are stored in a cool place. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends never leaving perishable goods at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.

These tips will help keep your open-air cooler clean, avoid damage to key components, and maintain a consistent temperature for food safety.

To help maintain your open-air cooler, speak to the open-air refrigerator repair and maintenance experts at General Parts, or book an appointment here.