Frozen dessert equipment dispenses ice cream, custard, yogurt and sorbet. Depending on the unit, these may produce and/or store a variety of products, including soft-serve desserts in single, twin twist or two separate flavors as well as shakes and ice cream cones. The main pieces of frozen dessert equipment include soft-serve machines, batch freezers and dipping cabinets.

iStock 476388256For ice cream and gelato, batch freezers produce, freeze and dispense these desserts, while operators use dipping cabinets to display and serve menu items.

Batch freezers create high volumes of ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato, sorbet, custard or other frozen dessert in a prescribed period of time. Most are rated by the barrel size ranging from 3 to 40 quarts. The barrel size is not necessarily indicative of the amount of product the machine will produce due to the amount of air that goes into a mix, also known as the overrun. The more butterfat, the faster the concoction takes on air.

The most critical batch freezer component is the beater or dasher, which adds air to the mixture while simultaneously scraping product from the barrel’s sides. The beater creates the proper consistency by pushing product into the barrel center and whipping it at the same time.

Batch freezers also include stainless-steel or plastic doors with grills on the front, along with two chutes. Located at the top of the door, the product chute is where users pour in the liquid mixture for the dessert, which is then outputted through the extraction chute. Newer batch freezers heat and freeze product to customize dessert offerings.

For ice cream, operators can choose from upright storage freezers available in a variety of sizes and widths. Available with either a solid or glass front, one-, two- and three-door units are most commonly used. Dipping cabinets are typically horizontal in format and range from 3 feet to 8 feet wide. The ideal ice cream holding temperature is -10 degrees F to prevent separation of the product and butterfat. Because gelato has a creamier consistency, operators should hold it at about 20 degrees F.

Standard features for these storage freezers include shelves or baskets for holding novelty items and dividers or organizers. Options include door locks and graphics for front-of-house merchandising. Dipping cabinets may offer night covers, frost shields on the interior for better viewing, water wells for rinsing utensils and a choice of casters or legs.

Frozen dessert equipment also includes soft-serve machines, which work by freezing liquid ice cream mix under agitation, then dispensing directly from the freezer into a cone or cup. These units can hold product in this frozen state for long periods until users dispense portions. Capacities range from 3.5 gallons per hour, or approximately 100 3.5-ounce servings per hour, to twist units that can produce 15 gallons per hour, or about 425 3.5-ounce servings per hour per side, for a total of 30 gallons per hour, equal to 850 3.5-ounce servings per hour. At the top end, units are available that produce up to 50 gallons per hour. Footprints range from 157/8 inches by 24¼ inches to 26 inches by 36½ inches.

The majority of the foodservice segment utilizes gravity-fed soft-serve machines, where the unit stores and refrigerates the mix in the hopper on the top of the freezer. Because this machine type limits the amount of air in the product, after four hours, the product can get dense and the viscosity more difficult to control.

Pressurized machines use a mix transfer system that pumps the mix from a container located in a refrigerated compartment below the cylinders up to the cylinders.

Overrun, or the amount of air introduced into the product, differs with these two machines. While gravity systems typically run at 42 percent overrun, pressurized units run at 60 percent.

Because soft-serve machines generate a great deal of heat due to their use of strong compressors, these units offer either air- or water-cooled condensing systems similar to those in refrigeration systems.

Some units feature Wi-Fi, internet logging capabilities to track ice cream production and other computerized features that give operators more control over the end product. The latest soft-serve freezers’ functions are controlled by a microprocessor. These control interfaces have icons on touch screens for simple operation. A newer option is a heat treat feature, which allows the machine to operate for two weeks without being disassembled for cleaning.

Manufacturers have reduced the amperage on soft-serve machine motors where possible so electric consumption is reduced. Switches on these units allow the operator to reduce the frequency so that the refrigeration system cools at night or during low-demand periods, which also reduces electric consumption.

Purchasing Considerations

Soft-Serve Machines: Soft-serve equipment can produce more than ice cream and frozen yogurt. Operators can use it to create unique, signature items.

The volume, demand and capacity will help determine the type and size unit that is best.

Product mix will also dictate the machine type that best suits a foodservice operator. If staff hand-blend milkshakes from a soft-serve machine, a larger freezing cylinder will be necessary due to the average serving size of a milkshake. If cones are the only ice cream on the menu, a smaller barrel size is better. Operations offering both milkshakes and cones will need a middle-size freezing cylinder or special combination machine that can handle both products.

Some units are viscosity controlled, while others use temperature controls. Operators serving a variety of frozen treats should consider a viscosity-controlled unit, which provides the flexibility to serve different products without technical adjustments to the equipment.

In many parts of North America, operating water-cooled equipment without a costly water recirculation system is prohibited. If this is the case, or if water usage costs are high, an air-cooled unit is an option.

Ice Cream and Gelato Equipment: Space and volume are major factors since these units are designed for operations selling large amounts of ice cream and/or gelato.

Because this equipment has larger compressors to break down temperatures more quickly, more power is typically required to operate these freezers.

Like all refrigeration and freezers, clearance on the sides and/or top may be needed to ensure proper air circulation.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Regular cleaning and sanitizing is critical with frozen dessert equipment. Operators should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, using the appropriate tools and chemicals, to ensure a long service life.

Soft-Serve Machines: For easier maintenance, disassemble and clean heat treatment units every two weeks versus daily. These machines go through a timed heating and cooling cycle each night that kills virtually all bacteria in the dairy product.

With the exception of heat treatment systems, soft-serve machines need to be taken completely apart, cleaned and sanitized each night. Certain parts can run through the dishwasher using food-safe sanitizers. Rinse the items prior to use. Use soap and water to wipe off the outside.

Soak the dispenser caps daily. Like refrigeration systems, regularly clean and check a soft-serve machine’s condenser. With water-cooled equipment, operators should make sure the water supply valve is completely open and there are no kinks in the water hoses.

Changing scraper blades on a regular basis represents a critical maintenance item. When scraper blades are not in good condition, they leave a film of frozen product on the cylinder walls. This layer builds up and acts as an insulator, increasing product freezing times. In soft-serve equipment, soft product from the refrigeration system will run longer and overbeat the product.

These units require regular routine tune-ups on the seals and gaskets every six months. Replace torn door seals as well as draw handle and auger shaft seals. If this maintenance is neglected, ice cream mix can leak out of the freeze chamber to the back of the machine, potentially compromising the motors and gear box.

Compressor failure on a unit that’s more than 10 years old signifies that it’s time for a new machine. The same is true for irreparable leaks.

Ice Cream and Gelato Equipment: With batch freezers, local health departments require cleaning, sanitizing, inspection and lubrication of moving parts and seals on a daily basis to prevent bacterial growth.

Milkfat or butterfat, components of ice cream and frozen custard mixes, will accumulate on the machine’s interior surfaces and parts. Fats are difficult to remove and cause milkstone buildup, a white/gray film that forms on equipment and utensils that come in contact with dairy products. This can accumulate slowly due to ineffective cleaning, use of hard water or both. Once milkstone has formed, it is very difficult to remove, even with general-purpose cleaners. Buildup can lead to high bacteria counts and a food safety dilemma as well as cause premature wear of machine parts.

Most seals, O-rings and some wear parts will require lubrication using FDA-approved food-safe lubricant prior to reassembly. This provides a proper seal and prevents excessive wear.

On a weekly basis, remove machine side covers and clean spills with a damp and soapy towel. Any mix that might have been spilled must be cleaned up from the inside of the machine using a damp, soapy towel.

Clean the unit’s condenser coil monthly either by blowing it out with compressed air or using a vacuum with a nylon brush.

Most manufacturers suggest replacement of rubber parts on a quarterly basis and common wear parts, such as blades, springs, belts and bushings, on an annual basis.