Food Safety
Daniel Brimelow
New Zealand
Feb 22, 2021

Cold Bays, common issues and fixes. We did the research!

Cold Bays, common issues and fixes. We did the research!

It is common for salad and sandwich and preparation cold bays to display cold food at temperatures between 5-10°C and it can be difficult to correct without significant investment.

This particularly applies to older model cold bays that do not have cooling vents that feed cold air over installed food containers.

Brightly lit displays, with “cold plate” refrigeration, stacked high with food to be more appetising, are more difficult to manage than compact displays with overhead cooling.

Regarding this Safe Food Pro has undertaken some research over the period of 3 weeks on different units, to determine what the temperatures are in real time using a Monitor Pro Data Logger with 2 different cold bays in real settings.

The results were to say the least, surprising and is a stark warning to all food operators using these devices that further diligence is required to ensure that the food you are serving is safe for consumption.


The image above (Cold Bay 1) is an older model tray style with a bench fridge underneath that feeds cold air to the trays stored on top. A lid is used to protect food when not in use and this is raised during service so that staff can access the prepped items. In this the Monitor Pro Data Logger probe was placed in the centre of the cold storage device to get optimal readings directly in a chicken and mayo mix, commonly used is sandwich bars. The readings below are of a single day taken from 9:30 AM to 8:30 PM



As you can clearly see, when the lid is up temperatures rise dramatically! Food items are in the temperature danger zone for significant periods of time only dropping when the lid is again shut. This clearly shows that this older type model needs to be watched more closely and food items in it must be turned over every 4 hours to ensure that food served is safe for consumption.

Previous temperature reports taken by staff using a probe type thermometer and recorded twice per day of this particular device showed that readings were between 3.5 to 5 degrees Celsius were taken when the cold bay was open and when returning to service after lunch, so the operator was unaware that this device was not functioning as required. Once showed the data readings over the 3-week period, they have since decommissioned the device and replaced it with a new one!


The image above (Cold Bay 2), is of a newer model type that has a contained bay on top with a bench fridge underneath with fans built in that force cold air into vents that feed into and over the top of the food items stored. Acrylic style sliders are placed on top when not in use to protect food items. In this the Monitor Pro Data Logger probe was placed in the centre of the cold storage device to get optimal readings and was placed directly in chicken and mayo mix, again, so that comparative readings could be sustained. The readings below are of a single day taken from 8:30 AM to 9:30 PM.


As you can see, this type device holds much better temperatures over a typical day, with temperature spikes noted at between 12 pm and 1 pm (5.2°C), 2 pm and 3 pm (5.4°C), 5 pm and 6 pm (5.5°C) and 8 pm and 9 pm (5.8°C) for short periods of time. This type of device much better protects food items from time temperature abuse and is a much better alternative in any busy kitchen than the older style models.

The Solution:

In the event that you have an older style top cold bay, you should definitely check this regularly to ensure it is maintaining the food stored at correct temperatures, after all not all cold storage devices are created equal and some of the older models may maintain safe temperatures even if open.

The only way to validate this is to monitor the food in the device to ascertain if the food items stored are maintained at temperatures at or below 5.°C.

I personally recommend taking a busy day and taking manual temperature reads of food items in different sections of the cold bay, every hour to determine if the device maintains safe food temperatures. You cannot rely on external temperature gauges to get food temperature readings! This only displays the ambient temperature of the cold bay where the internal probe is installed…

If you find that your device is not working effectively, don’t despair, there is no need to run out an buy a brand new fridge just yet.

Recommendations can include the following:

  1. Remove food from these devices consistent with the “4-hour/2-hour rule”. This can be time consuming and problematic and largely depends on the calibre of staff you may have on any given day. But if food is only stored for 2 hours at a time, then the items can be used for 2 service time frames before it has to be discarded.
  2. You can also place smaller amounts of higher risk food in the bain trays so that food is used more quickly. Replacement trays can be stored in the fridge below and items can be rotated quickly during service. This process will help to reduce waste and will ensure that food remains fresh and of high quality.
  3. Avoid stacking food items up high in cold bay displays, this applies to both older and newer models. Once food goes over installed vents, it is no longer being cooled and you can potentially contaminate the food underneath during service when scooping items out!
  4. Monitoring the temperature of your cold bays is essential. It can help to prevent not only food poisoning but also food spoilage and wastage.
  5. Temperatures of cold bays and fridges should always be re-assessed from season to season to make sure food is kept at the right temperature all year round.

About the author

Daniel Brimelow

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