Drop-in wells can effectively keep food hot and/or cold, depending on the unit. An operation’s menu always dictates how many wells it requires. Other factors that determine the necessary number of wells include quantity of food or number of people the operation will serve.

istock 184854154Although this equipment is primarily geared for non-prepackaged foods, drop-in wells can also accommodate packaged items, such as beverages and yogurt.

Standard features with food wells include stainless-steel construction, remote controls and slide-out compressors. NSF guidelines require hot drop-in wells to hold food at 150 degrees F and cold food wells to hold product between 33 degrees F and 40 degrees F to ensure food safety.

Cold wells used in commercial foodservice are required to adhere to NSF 7 guidelines, while drop-in merchandisers need to follow NSF 2 guidelines. In addition, NSF 4 guidelines are geared for hot food well holding.

Specifying Considerations

Food wells consist of wet and dry units. The wet style utilizes water, has an insert pan to hold food and requires plumbing hookups and draining capabilities.

Both wet and dry drop-in wells may present certain challenges. Wet food wells are not as mobile since the plumbing needs to be disconnected in order to move the unit. The biggest complaint with dry wells is that some menu items may dry out quicker, affecting the food quality. However, recently, a number of manufacturers have developed dry food wells with updated technology to address this problem. Although this equipment costs more, it provides added versatility.

Choose from hot, cold, integrated and soup/sauce type drop-in wells, depending on the applications. For hot food, drop-in wells are available in either electric or gas versions that use water baths or waterless wells for keeping menu items at desired temperatures.

With cold drop-in wells, operators can choose from mechanically cooled models, forced-air units that push air on top of product and a newer technology that cools wells using refrigeration lines. For those looking for an economical and simplified version, cold wells that utilize ice pans are an option. Most models have a 3-inch recess as required for NSF 7 listing, are fully insulated and include copper coil refrigeration.

While the majority of these units have compressors underneath, operators looking to save space and reduce noise should consider drop-in wells with remote compressors.

Integrated drop-in wells accommodate a variety of meals, such as hot entrees and sides, in addition to lighter cold items, like fruits and parfaits. Specify integrated counter merchandisers with either slightly recessed sheet pan merchandising or vertical drop-in cold and hot configurations for online applications.

Operators can choose from various configurations, with the most common wells holding 12-inch by 20-inch stainless pans. For added versatility, incorporate adapter plates as accessories so drop-in wells can accommodate a combination of 1/3-, 1/6- or ½-size pans.

For added temperature consistency, hot and cold convertible food wells provide independent temperature controls per well. Some units are available with various tilts and angles that meet NSF guidelines.

With newer technology, wattage can vary dramatically.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Drop-in wells hold hot or cold food, keeping it at required temperatures. Due to these units’ basic design, cleaning and maintenance are not as complicated as with other equipment.

In terms of cleaning, rinse food wells with a mild detergent and wipe them on a daily basis. For wet units, drain and refill the water daily to prevent scale and mineral buildup. With plumbing connections, staff should not yank or hang items on the unit’s pipes. This can cause a break in the connection point.

One sign that indicates a hot food well is failing is scorch marks on the bottom of the well.

Staff members should keep an eye on food well temperatures. If there are issues with the thermostat, if the food well is not getting enough heat or if the temperatures vary, the unit needs to be serviced.