Restaurants use various equipment both small and large to keep their food hot or warm. Holding cabinets are used quite often, which are electric cabinets that provide a steady source of heat to the food placed in it to keep it warm or hot. They are usually made with glass doors to see and inspect the food while it is kept hot. Holding cabinets are sometimes called a hot box or just simply a warmer.
Sometimes restaurants will just set finished orders on top of the back parts of heated stoves or the top of ovens (or even near them) to keep the food warm until pick-up. Some use special bags and bagging methods to keep the food warm.
Depending on the amount of food that has to be prepped and kept warm at a time, smaller holding cabinets can be used as opposed to the larger ones that don’t take up as much space like larger ones that could take up an entire counter in space.
Other warmers that restaurants use to keep food hot are steam tables and an Apw food warmer. An apw food warmer is a smaller hot box that can be moved and carried with both hands to different outlets and used to keep side dishes (including soups) hot or warm in restaurants.
Steam tables are basically tables consisting of multiple hot boxes that perform like the apw. They are plugged into outlets and have a dial that is turned to adjust the temperature (some are done digitally) at which the food is kept at if it is placed in them. Water has to be placed in the hot metal box, which heats up and makes contact with the containers that the food is placed in above it. This ultimately keeps the food hot for hours.
Holding cabinets aren’t used to actually cook foods, but rather to sustain their temperatures and keep them fresh after they are cooked. Restaurants are very sensitive to the temperatures they set for their warmers, and will usually keep them at a set temperature and never change them. This is because setting the temperature too high can end up slow cooking food rather than keeping it hot and fresh.
The warmers are used primarily for keeping foods that slow cook lasting longer throughout the day. The food is first cooked in pots, ovens, microwaves, or other means, and then placed in holding cabinets, steam tables, or an apw to be kept hot.
These aren’t the only ways for food to be kept hot after it is finished. Restaurants may also use heat lamps or fans depending on the type of food. Cooked poultry or fries are more suitably kept warm or hot using fans that produce heat, or by using a heat lamp.
How Do Restaurants Keep Food Warm For Hours?
Steam tables and other warmers that use water as a means to keep the food warm are some of the best ways for restaurants to keep their food warm for hours. It is because the heat produced from holding cabinets and ovens don’t have enough moisture to keep certain foods from getting dry. Foods that are too dry can become waste after some time, even if they are kept warm at lower temperatures.
Since the FDA requires that hot food stay above 135 degrees Fahrenheit, restaurants cannot lower the temperature of standing food below this after it is cooked. This means that warmers that use water as a way of keeping the food hot becomes a better choice over ovens for keeping food hot and fresh for hours. The moisture helps to preserve the food.
Foods that don’t get affected in its quality as much when they are kept hot for hours will still be placed in ovens, under heating fans, or heat lamps instead. Foods are sometimes placed in sealed containers before being placed under heat lamps to counter the heat drying the food out before it is served. Restaurants place lids on top of foods they plan to keep hot for hours, which helps keep them fresher longer. The steam that the food releases circulates under the lid and keeps the food moisturized.
How Long Can Food Be Kept In A Food Warmer?
Food can be kept in food warmers for hours on end as long as these 3 factors haven’t changed:
- The quality of the food.
- The temperature of the food.
- The moisture of the food.
If the food becomes dry and hard because of lack of moisture, then it is time to take it out. If the quality of the food changed to the point that it is no longer servable, take it out and don’t serve it. Finally, if the temperature of the food drops below 135 degrees Fahrenheit while in the warmer, it is best to throw it away.
The FDA makes it clear that food can grow bacteria that causes food borne illnesses and food poisoning when food that is kept hot is sitting at temperatures less than 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that food that is kept heated for hours is above this temperature to prevent this. This is the most important factor of the three.
As long as all 3 factors are good, then food can be kept for 4 hours, or even 10 hours in holding cabinets, ovens, or warmers.
How To Reheat Cold Food And Leftovers For Warmers
Warmers do not heat up fast enough, or have high enough temperatures to actually cook food at a fast rate. It is best to microwave it or place in an oven first to quickly heat the food first to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and then place the food in the warmer after it has been plugged and ready to use.
Restaurants use this method to reheat leftovers and avoid the danger zone for bacteria growth in foods that are warm but below 135 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent foodborne illnesses. Doing this keeps the food fresher longer while it is in the warmers for hours, and prevents the eater from possibly getting sick.
Warmers can take a long time to warm food that is cold, even if the warmer is already heated and at a high temperature. Remember that they are warmers, not cookers.