Close your eyes and think about the meal that you ate today. Did this meal contain fruits, vegetables, meats, or dairy products? If so, you can thank commercial refrigeration for making that meal possible! Commercial refrigeration is responsible for making almost all food and beverages worldwide safe for consumption and is used daily in grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, and multiple other industries. It’s hard to believe that just over two centuries ago this technology was just being introduced and paving the way for modern commercial refrigeration. Let’s look back to the end of the 18th century to see how it all began.
The Beginning Of Commercial Refrigeration
Before commercial refrigeration, ice harvesting was the only method of refrigeration possible. Ice was stored underground or in ice houses and preserved with salt until the late 18th century and early 19th century when refrigeration technology began being introduced. In the 1780s Scottish physician, William Cullen made the first strides towards refrigeration with his cooling box invention. While the concept was clear, they had no use for his invention and it wasn’t considered useful until Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley experimented with it. These experiments led to the first steps in using refrigerant liquids to cool surfaces and areas.
From 1800 to 1850, other inventors experimented with Cullen’s invention but no technological breakthroughs would come through until Ferdinand Carre developed the first ice machine in the 1840s. This ice machine allowed for ice and dairy products to be safely transported longer distances than traditional transportation methods. Advances continued through the end of the 1800s that allowed for even greater transportation distances of ice and food products.
The Commercial Refrigeration Boom
The dawn of the 20th century brought many huge advancements to commercial refrigeration. New refrigerants such as Freon were introduced that were no longer poisonous or contained pungent smells unlike previous refrigerants such as ammonia. These new refrigerants allowed for refrigeration to become much safer in food use which in effect caused the commercial refrigeration boom. By the 1940s both homes and commercial businesses were using refrigerators.
As the 1950s came to a close almost all industries were utilizing commercial refrigeration as it became more affordable and custom-tailored to match industry needs. The refrigeration industry continued to make advancements with synthetic alternatives to freon as freon was found to be environmentally harmful by 1970. In the late 1970s, bipolar ionization was first used to control pathogens in meat coolers and storage freezers. These technological advancements made refrigeration storage the safest method for food consumption. Through the late 1900s styles and materials used in refrigerators were changed that improved the look and energy efficiency in commercial refrigerators.
Commercial Refrigeration Today
In the 2000s, energy efficiency usage improved and only required half of the energy needed to power a refrigerator in 1970. The lifespan of refrigeration units also continued improving by utilizing smart technology and advanced settings. Businesses can now also remotely control their refrigeration system settings directly from their phone or laptop. From a simple invention that was used to help transport ice to a technologically advanced refrigerator system in 2021, the commercial refrigerator has come a long way over the last two centuries and significantly improved the quality of life as well as operations for commercial businesses.