In this article by Robert Fiorito, he discusses the importance of day to day awareness in the kitchen. During daily operations, the threat of fire can be a fleeting thought when the restaurant is slammed busy or even in the slower down times. These lapses in awareness allow for the possibility of kitchen fires. Minimizing these lapses comes down to proper training, preventative maintenance, and proper inspection/cleaning schedules. All kitchen fires can be prevented with the proper systems in place. Follow this link to learn more.
Solid fuel cooking is becoming a staple in many kitchens across the nation. Whether it be a wood burning pizza oven, a smoker pit, or even a charcoal fired grill; there are certain hazards that are inherent to this cooking style. In this article by Alex Garrote (a restaurant fire protection specialist at Cleveland-based ABCO Fire Protection), he covers a few factors that are extremely important to reducing the risks involved with solid fuel cooking. Follow this link to learn more.
How long has it been?
When speaking with prospective clients, there is always an “interview” process to determine what individual needs are important. During this brief Q & A, we try to understand several things like location, size, and condition of the kitchen exhaust system. Inevitably, we ask the question, “How long has it been since the system was cleaned last?” There really aren’t too many answers we get to this question; more often than not, the informed restaurant manager has had the vent hoods on their normal schedule and the last cleaning falls within the last three to six months. On the other end of the spectrum, often times the restaurant will tell us the last time the hoods were cleaned was eight months ago, over a year, two years or, heck, we couldn’t tell you the last time the hoods were cleaned.
One main reason, we find, there has been such a long gap in the kitchen exhaust cleaning is that the restaurateur has recently taken over the space from another tenant. If this the case, congratulations. Getting the kitchen exhaust cleaning service set up should be towards the top of the list of things to do. From a safety standpoint, you shouldn’t do any type of cooking under a vent hood that has not been cleaned and inspected. Typically, when a restaurateur is on the decline, maintenance expenditures are not a high priority. He or she could have been neglecting that system, thus allowing unknown amounts of grease to accumulate in the system, and potentially causing a fire hazard for you, the new owner, that could arise the very moment the new cooking equipment is fired up. From a budgeting standpoint, your R&M budget is not complete until the KEC costs are determined. In many cases, the city may require that an agreement is in place with a KEC company before you will be given your CO. Prior to reopening an existing restaurant, or even if you are going through new construction, talk with a certified kitchen exhaust cleaning company to understand your costs and needs. Get several bids. There are several tips to finding a reputable company in many previous articles we have written.
Another reason we hear quite a bit as to why a restaurant has not had their hoods properly cleaned, is that the restaurant, “cleans them themselves.” Being a former restaurant manager, I always liked to hear when staff would go above and beyond they’re normal duties. Unfortunately, properly cleaning the kitchen exhaust system is not something that should be left in the hands of restaurant managers and employees. NFPA 96 code actually states: “The entire exhaust system shall be inspected for grease buildup by a properly trained, qualified, and certified person (s)…” Some consider cleaning the vent hood as taking out the baffle filters and cleaning them. That is half right. While you should be cleaning the baffles regularly, there is quite a bit more to the system than just the filters.
When it comes down to it, if we are doing any type of cooking in a commercial kitchen, our exhaust system needs to be on a preventative maintenance program. There are some costs that are, simply put, fixed into the budget. If you are opening or reopening a restaurant, have a talk with a kitchen exhaust cleaning company to understand the specifics of your restaurant. If you are reading this article and all this comes as news to you, please don’t wait until it is too late.
10 Fire and Safety Concerns in your Commercial Kitchen
A food service establishment is subject to hidden and illusive safety concerns that, if not addressed may impact its survival, the safety of its staff, and the safety of its guests. There is a lot that can go wrong in a kitchen, and cooking equipment is responsible for 57 percent of disastrous restaurant fires. Meant as a follow up to “What to Expect from Your Annual Fire Inspection,” here are a few safety concerns to address in your commercial kitchen:
- Inadequate separation between open flame appliances and fryers. In order to be compliant, there must be a 16 inch area of separation between cooking appliances, or a 16 inch vertical non-combustible metal divider must be place. Without adequate separation, oil can splash or splatter into open flames, causing a fire risk. Always consult your fire suppression company when making any changes in your kitchen equipment layout.
- Combustible construction within 18 inches of hood. Combustible materials around the kitchen hood and cooking area may aid in the spread of fire. Incombustible materials such as mineral wool pad (or equivalent), provide a barrier that creates a break in the fire’s path.
- Fire suppression system/ fire extinguisher tags out of date.When a kitchen suppression system is serviced, a tag should be left by the servicing company indicating the service date. An out-of-date tag indicates that the system is not being serviced regularly. Suppression systems should be inspected every 6 months and extinguishers annually.
- The fire suppression system is not UL300 Listed.The UL300 Standard for Testing of Fire Extinguishing Systems for the Protection of Restaurant Cooking Surfaces was introduced in November of 1994. The new standard was set to address changes that were happening in cooking styles, processes, and equipment that were resulting in kitchen fires that had become increasingly difficult to contain. With the widespread transition from animal fat to vegetable oil use in deep fat fryers, dry chemical systems are no longer able to control the higher temperature, longer burning fires produced by vegetable oils. A UL300 Listed system is specifically designed to handle these intense fires, contain them longer, and prevent splashing of hot oil during the fire.
- Suppression nozzle covers missing or not in place.When the nozzles of a suppression system are not kept covered, grease laden vapors can clog the hole. This may impede or prevent operation of the suppression system. Remember to check the nozzles that are inside duct collars and duct work.
- Suppression nozzles not aimed properly.If a nozzle is not properly aimed to deposit the extinguishing chemicals on the source of the fire, it will be less effective. If you move kitchen appliances around on your cooking line, consult your suppression company first. They will need to make necessary adjustments to your system to make sure you remain compliant.
- Inadequate cleaning cycle kitchen exhaust system.Exhaust systems that are not kept clean will accumulate grease and pose a serious threat of fire. Cleaning schedules can vary and are based on the volume of cooking, type of cooking, and facility type. A full service restaurant using solid fuel cooking appliances or woks may need to be cleaned monthly, while a low-volume kitchens like that in a daycare or senior center only require cleaning semi-annually. A certified exhaust cleaning company must provide you with a certificate of performance stating the date of completion and an expiration date.
- Hood or suppression system does not cover all appliances.You exhaust and fire suppression system should cover all of your cooking equipment. If a fire occurs in or on an appliance that is not covered by the hood or suppression system, it cannot be adequately controlled by the system.
- Lights not covered with explosion-proof covers.All light covers must be able to contain any explosion originating within its housing and prevent sparks from within its housing from igniting vapors, gases, dust, or fibers in the air surrounding it. Explosion-proof light covers are generally required in areas involving high heat and high fire risk such as you kitchen exhaust hood.
- Baffle filter panels installed wrong or not installed at all. Filter panels are specifically designed to collect grease. They also create a fire barrier between the cooking surfaces and the interior of the hood. If they aren’t properly installed, dirty, or not in use an increased risk of fire is created. Filters should also fill up the entire opening of you exhaust system with no gaps existing in between them.
Taking proper steps to mitigate these safety concerns is ultimately the responsibility of the business owner/operator. The impact of not following these guidelines can be far reaching and lead a business to catastrophe. Having proper inspection procedures in place and following life and safety codes will create a safer environment for everyone in your food service establishment.
Cooking with solid fuel such as mesquite, charcoal and other hardwood adds another dimension to restaurant offerings. Wood fired ovens, smoker pits, and wood burning /charcoal grills allow restaurants a wider array of flavor and cooking capabilities. Solid fuel appliances also have the potential for increased safety risks.
Restaurants that use solid fuel cooking methods generate a large amount of heat and grease, especially when cooking meat. Anytime a solid fuel burning appliance is used, creosote is deposited in the exhaust system or flue. Creosote is highly flammable and creates the biggest potential hazard when using such an appliance. Creosote has three stages. As each stage increases, they become more hazardous and are increasingly difficult to remove from the exhaust system or flue.
Stage 1 – The first stage of creosote is like flaky soot that is easy to brush away with a basic chimney brush.
Stage 2 – Creosote in the second stage can be described as shiny, hard black flakes. The flakes actually contain hardened tar that is not easily brushed away, but it can be removed without extreme measures. The most popular method for removing creosote in the second stage is with a rotary loop or chain flail. A powerful drill turns metal rods, with these devices attached, throughout the duct work to break up the accumulation.
Stage 3 – Third-stage creosote is something to be avoided. Not only is it extremely difficult to clean, it is a highly concentrated fuel that resembles a coating of tar dripping down inside of your exhaust system or flue. This type of glazed creosote can become very thick as it hardens and is repeatedly recoated with another layer. A hot fire can easily ignite this type of creosote, which is extremely hazardous.
All forms of creosote can occur in one exhaust system. Whatever form it takes, creosote is highly combustible. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), failure to remove creosote from the exhaust system or flue can ultimately result in a fire. While NFPA is a consensus standard, and not a “force of law,” it forms the basis for many local building codes and insurance company underwriting guidelines. Consensus codes and standards are intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks.
Ventilation and Cleaning Ventilation guidelines for solid fuel cooking are addressed by NFPA 96-14. The key elements of NFPA 96-14 are:
- Solid fuel cooking appliances need to be installed consistent with NFPA 96-14 and its related sections.
- Solid fuel cooking operations should have spark arresters to minimize the passage of airborne sparks and embers into ducts.
- Exhaust for solid fuel shall be separate from all other appliances.
- If located under a kitchen exhaust hood, the duct for a solid fuel appliance shall be separate from all other exhaust hoods.
- The combustion chamber shall be inspected weekly for residue that might restrict the vent, start a fire or cause corrosion.
- The exhaust system for solid fuel cooking shall be inspected monthly and cleaned if necessary. Buildup of creosote, a by-product of wood burning, is the major cause of exhaust system fires, which result from poor preventive maintenance.
For effective cleaning:
- Scrape the combustion chamber clean to its original surface at least once per week
- Inspect the exhaust system monthly for residue that might restrict the vent or start a fire.
- Remove ash once per day and spray it with water before storing it in a covered metal container (container should not exceed 20 gallons in capacity)
Restaurant owners can safely use solid fuel appliances with the right amount of understanding and maintenance. The biggest areas to address include proper ventilation, frequent cleaning, and adequate fire protection systems. By understanding the unique risks associated with solid fuel appliances, restaurant owners can take steps to mitigate the threats inherent in their use.