According to a 2017 NFPA research report, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 7,410 structure fires per year in restaurants and bars over a four year period. These incidents caused an average annual loss of three civilian deaths, 110 civilian injuries, and $165 million in direct property damage. A fire can devastate a business, leading to loss of revenue and even permanent closure. The good news is that restaurants and bars can protect their investment by making fire prevention a top priority. Start by ensuring that your commercial cooking facilities are optimizing safety.
Know Your Kitchen Exhaust System
Your commercial kitchen is the heartbeat of your restaurant’s operation, and the kitchen exhaust system is the essential component that makes cooking indoors possible. When the kitchen exhaust system is functioning correctly, all the smoke, heat, moisture, and grease residue that are produced during the cooking process are drawn out through the kitchen exhaust fan. To understand the purpose of the kitchen exhaust system, think about the air flow. The hood captures most of the grease removed from the air by the grease removal devices, also known as grease filters or hood filters. The air flow is then carried through the exhaust duct system and expelled through the kitchen exhaust fan. The air flow contains fats, oils, and grease that accumulate in the hood, exhaust duct system, and kitchen exhaust fan. The design of kitchen exhaust systems should account for this and provide enough access points to be cleaned and inspected.
Cooking equipment that produces grease laden vapors could be a source of ignition of grease in the hood, grease removal device, or duct. These systems are required to be protected by fire extinguishing equipment. This will include automatic extinguishing systems and portable fire extinguishers for backup. Automatic extinguishing systems are required to comply with the ANSI/UL 300, Standard for Fire Testing of Fire Extinguishing Systems for Protection of Commercial Cooking Equipment. Check the fire extinguishing system installed in your facility and make sure the system complies with the ANSI/UL 300 test standard. Portable fire extinguishers are also required to be installed in accordance with NFPA 10, Standard on Portable Fire Extinguishers and be labeled to identify the class of fire (Class A, B, C, D, or K) the extinguisher will be effective. Employees should be trained on the various types of portable extinguishers and how to use them in the event of a fire.
Inspect, Test, and Maintain
Once you understand the function of your kitchen exhaust system, schedule inspections regularly. There are items that need to be inspected by trained, qualified, and certified people to conduct. The NFPA requires that the entire exhaust system is inspected for grease buildup in accordance with Table 11.4 of NFPA 96, which bases the frequency of inspections on the amount of cooking and type of cooking that is taking place in a facility.
Table 11.4: Schedule of Inspection for Grease Buildup (NFPA 96, 2021 edition)
It is important to stick with your required inspections for cooking equipment, fire extinguishing systems, and the entire exhaust system. These inspections provide valuable information on the health and safety of your cooking operations.
Importance of Cleaning
During the scheduled inspection, if the kitchen exhaust system is found to be contaminated with deposits from grease-laden vapors, the system must be cleaned by properly trained, qualified, and certified people. This service is also contracted out and once the cleaning has been completed, a written report will be provided by the kitchen exhaust cleaner. This will include details on the amount of grease buildup, maintenance or repairs needed, and noted areas that were inaccessible or not cleaned. This report must be provided by the contracted service provider.
- Access Panels
If a noted area has been marked as inaccessible, an access panel must be installed. Access doors, or access panels, are a vital component of the restaurant hood and duct exhaust system. When you hire a professional kitchen exhaust cleaner to perform this job, it is vital that they remove all the fire fuel (grease buildup) from the kitchen exhaust hood and ductwork. Access doors allow kitchen exhaust cleaners to reach all the areas of the ductwork. If a particular spot in the system cannot be reached easily, it most likely will be left uncleaned; it’s that simple. That is why the NFPA 96 standard requires an access door for at least every 12 feet of duct and at every change of direction.
- Hinge Kits
A complete kitchen exhaust cleaning will include grease removal from the kitchen hood up to the rooftop. Kitchen exhaust cleaners will need to clean the commercial kitchen exhaust fan. Hinges are necessary for the safety of kitchen exhaust cleaners. These commercial exhaust fans can weigh anywhere from 50 pounds to a few hundred pounds. If there is no hinge kit, the fan must be lifted off the curb and placed on the rooftop for cleaning, potentially leading to fan and roof damage, as well as increasing the likelihood of serious injury to the service provider.
The NFPA 96 standard outlines safety standards for upblast fans. The standard reads: “126.96.36.199 Rooftop termination shall be arranged with or provided with the following: (8) A hinged upblast fan supplied with flexible weatherproof electrical cable and service hold-open retainer to permit inspection and cleaning that is listed for commercial cooking equipment.”
- Grease Containment Systems
It is not necessary and is unrealistic to try to clean your kitchen exhaust system every day or week to remove the excess grease. That is why having a grease containment system in place for between kitchen exhaust cleanings is imperative to the safety of your establishment.
NFPA 96 codes states: “188.8.131.52 Rooftop termination shall be arranged with or provided with the following: (4) The ability to drain grease out of any traps or low points formed in the fan or duct near the termination of the system into a collection container that is noncombustible, closed, rainproof, and structurally sound for the service to which it is applied and that will not sustain combustion.”
When you have a proper grease containment system in place, it catches the excess grease that travels from your hood up the ductwork and onto your rooftop. Most restaurants are equipped with a grease catch, but these standard grease catches are too small to handle the grease output. With an upgraded grease containment system and regularly scheduled maintenance, your roof will have a significantly decreased fire risk.
There are also many ways restaurant professionals can reduce the risk of fire within their facility. Train employees on how to reduce the risk of fire within the facility. Encourage employees to routinely check their equipment to ensure it is functioning properly and that it has been cleaned thoroughly from the previous night. Employees should be familiar with the fire extinguishing system and be able to check the nozzles to ensure that they are clear and not clogged with grease. Cleaning the hood grease filters regularly will also help decrease the number of grease-laden vapors that enter the ductwork. Cleaning exhaust hoods is especially important since grease buildup can restrict airflow. These are all very simple, yet effective steps in the fire protection program of your facility.
Ultimately, it is the owner’s responsibility that cooking equipment, hoods, ducts, fans, and fire extinguishing equipment in their facility is maintained to ensure the entire system provides the appropriate level of protection. In addition, the owner is responsible for the inspection, testing, maintenance, and cleanliness of the of the commercial cooking operation.
Since 1 in every 5 restaurant fires start because of a failure to clean properly, cleaning is the easy and obvious solution to mitigate fire risks. When you educate the people in your sphere of influence to understand the risks of fire and how to prevent them, you protect more than just a building from the devastation of fire; you’re protecting people’s lives. If you have any questions regarding Omni Containment System’s products, contact us today. We would be happy to educate you on our life-saving equipment.