By Nate Wojtasinski, CECS
Commercial kitchens, by design, allow restaurants to prepare numerous meals quickly. However, this fast-paced environment can also create multiple fire hazards and increase the likelihood of a kitchen fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), over 7,000 restaurant fires are reported annually, with cooking equipment often named as the leading cause. To reduce the risk of damage, foodservice facility managers can implement the following practices to ensure the facility’s kitchen is well-maintained and equipped to prevent a fire. Fire Prevention Week, an initiative created by NFPA to highlight the importance of fire prevention, runs October 8-14 this year.
Maintain Electrical Equipment. Commercial kitchens are equipped with a number of electrical appliances that are often operated simultaneously. Over time, the wiring, cords, and switch plates can wear down and become a fire hazard. Kitchen staff should be trained to regularly inspect the equipment for any noticeable damage, and managers should schedule regular professional maintenance assessments to ensure all systems are functioning properly. When the kitchen closes for the night, all appliances should be unplugged to prevent an electrical fuse shortage that could spark a fire.
Minimize Grease. As all facility managers know, grease is unavoidable in a commercial kitchen. Thankfully, steps can be taken to reduce the accumulation of this highly flammable substance. Employees should regularly clean areas of the kitchen that are consistently exposed to grease to ensure they are grease-free. These areas often include walls, ranges, grills, fryers, exhaust hood systems, hood filters, and even the roof. In addition to everyday maintenance, kitchen managers should periodically sanitize and provide a thorough cleaning in areas of the kitchen that are difficult to reach.
Clean the Exhaust Hood System. The kitchen exhaust hood system, composed of the hood canopy, duct work, and exhaust fan, serves as a trap for grease, smoke, and heat. Without proper maintenance, the accumulation of this effluent can be a significant fire threat. An experienced and certified professional should be hired on a recurring basis to perform a thorough cleaning of the kitchen exhaust system to remove grease and improve ventilation. Additionally, all commercial kitchens are obligated to adhere to the NFPA Standard 96 by way of local fire inspectors as well as insurance companies. NFPA Standard 96: Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations states that commercial kitchen exhaust systems shall be inspected and professionally cleaned at specific intervals, as determined by the type of cooking being done.
Prepare an Escape Plan. In the event that a kitchen fire does occur, facility managers should have an emergency action and evacuation plan already in place. Exits should be clearly marked, and fire drills should be conducted at least twice a year to ensure staff is fully trained on what to do in the event of an emergency. As a reminder, fire exit routes should be framed and mounted in strategic areas like stairwells and hallways. At the start of each shift, one staff member comfortable with the evacuation plan should be designated as the person responsible for calling 911 and directing employees and customers to safety in the event of a fire. Though kitchen fires are preventable, accidents do happen and it’s necessary the kitchen staff is prepared.
When a commercial kitchen fire happens, it often has devastating effects on a facility and its operations. Fortunately, there are several preventive measures that facility managers can take to protect their employees, customers, and establishment. Taking steps to ensure commercial kitchens are properly cleaned and staff members are appropriately trained on procedures for fire prevention are critical ways to mitigate the risk of a dangerous fire. Implementing the above tips and processes will help create a cleaner, safer environment for both employees and customers.
Wojtasinski is the technical training & support manager at HOODZ International, a provider of commercial kitchen exhaust system cleaning and preventive maintenance. A franchise company based in Ann Arbor, MI, HOODZ delivers kitchen cleaning, code compliance, and fire prevention solutions to restaurants, institutions, and other food service industries.