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Finding, Formatting, and Preparing Flash Drives for Equipment Updates

USB Flash Drive

More and more commercial kitchen appliances are now controlled entirely by software, and a large number of appliances in the average kitchen will feature a USB or memory card port to accommodate flash drives for equipment updates to the factory-installed software. There are however a variety of things you'll need to know about storage devices before randomly selecting one to use for your next repair job.

Flash memory sizes matter

When shopping for a USB flash drive or memory card, logic would dictate that you purchase the best possible size to price ratio. Before purchasing, we recommend that you check with the equipment vendor to verify the permissible memory size. Turbochef for example limits the flash drive to 8GB, and actually recommends smaller drives – 2GB at most.

An easy way to determine the best size is to check the size of the actual firmware file(s). In most cases, these updates will be much smaller than the flash drive you were planning to purchase.

FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS – picking the correct format

flash drives

This topic is a tricky one, because it requires a more in-depth knowledge of storage devices and the different formatting methods used by Windows. To prevent the article getting too confusing, we'll ignore Mac OS as the formatting options here make things even more complex.

The file system (often called the format) of a storage device describes its File Allocation Table, or the method used to determine where on a storage device the various files are physically stored. As storage devices have grown in size over the years, so has the type of File Allocation Table (or FAT). The FAT was originally designed for much smaller storage devices than we use nowadays.

Old versions of Windows (before 1996) utilized the FAT/FAT16 version of the File Allocation Table. That was followed by FAT32, and complicated with newer technologies like NTFS (originally used in server versions of Windows) and exFAT which is the default in current versions of Windows.

In the vast majority of recently made equipment requiring flash drive updates, you'll need to use the FAT32 format, but older machines often need to be formatted as FAT16. Confused yet?


When you receive a brand new flash drive with nothing stored on it, it is recommended to format it with the file system you know will work for the equipment you service. This will usually be FAT32. Starting the format is relatively easy; find the drive letter for the new drive you inserted into your computer, right-click on it, and select Format from the drop-down menu. Then select the correct file system (FAT, FAT32, NTFS or exFAT). Turn off the quick format option to ensure the drive is completely wiped and wait – formatting a 2GB drive will take around 15 minutes.

Brand examples

Turbochef: Turbochef has an excellent field service advisory (PDF). with the exact steps required for updating their equipment:

  • Menu loading and saving on the oven is optimized with a USB drive that is 8GB or smaller. However, some larger USBs will also work.
  • Before using the USB, TurboChef recommends formatting the USB to FAT32 file system.

Rational: Rational Self Cooking Center equipment made prior to 2011 usually requires FAT16 formatted drives. After 2011, you can use FAT32. The firmware files for these machines are usually quite small, so stick with 2GB drives as they are cheap enough. In a recent discussion, our experts posted the following:

  • FAT16 for index E and G models (max 32 MB or try a 64 MB stick)
  • FAT32 for index G unit and later (upto 4GB stick)

Manitowoc: Manitowoc also provides an excellent PDF with the guidelines for correctly formatting USB drives. They recommend the following:

• 2 GB or less capacity
• Fat32 File System
• 512 Byte File Allocation Unit

Delfield: For Delfield GA Touchscreen enabled equipment, follow the steps outlined in their service bulletin. This document also provides the passwords required to access the firmware menu.

Important Tips

Thanks to the members of techtown, we've collected some important tips to keep in mind when working with equipment that needs updating after repairs, or for equipment that has to be updated to fix issues found in older software versions:

  • When possible, keep a single flash drive for each brand and model machine you work on. With the price of flash drives lower than ever, it isn't too expensive to keep a small bag of flash drives to assist in your work. This saves time and ensures you always have the right drive with you.
  • Remember to label your flash drives with the brand, model, and version of firmware stored on your flash drives.
  • Some brands ship their control boards without any software loaded, which requires you to load the latest firmware before the new board will work. In Rational SCC equipment, for example, a board swap means you'll need to load the software yourself. You can not simply swap the SD memory card between the old and the new board. If you don't have the correct Rational USB drive, you'll need to contact Rational support.
  • Many brands sell their firmware updater drives through Parts Town. If you regularly work on a brand or model that needs updates, these drives can be real time-savers.
  • Some vendors lock the firmware update menu in their equipment behind a technician password. Some of these passwords can be found online, others are specific to that exact piece of equipment. Always take notes and store passwords for any future work on the equipment.