Fire is the #1 hazard faced by all commercial kitchen owners. Whether it’s a restaurant, hotel or catering kitchen, it only takes a single spark to start a fire that could result in a costly and potentially business-ending disaster. Excessive grease accumulation, equipment malfunction and generally poor housekeeping are among the most common fire hazards.
It’s estimated that 5,900 restaurant fires occur every year in the United States, resulting in over $172 million in property loss and many personal injuries.
Because there is really no way to completely erase the threat of fire in a commercial cooking environment, we have outlined some basic precautions you can take to decrease the likelihood of a potentially catastrophic event.
Proper Maintenance of your Kitchen Fire Suppression System
Commercial kitchen owners are required by the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) fire code, NFPA 17a, to have a UL300-approved automatic fixed fire suppression system properly installed to protect exhaust ducts, grease removal systems, hoods, and commercial cooking equipment. Cooking appliances such as deep fat fryers, woks, ranges, griddles, and broilers produce grease laden vapors and need to be properly protected. NFPA 17a requires that a 6-month Maintenance be performed by an Authorized Distributor that has been trained and certified by the system’s manufacturer.
Proper Duct and Hood Cleaning
Exhaust hoods and ducts in restaurant and bar kitchens are designed to collect cooking vapors and residues. Poorly cleaned hoods and ducts account for 21 percent of all commercial kitchen fires. NFPA 96 is another fire code that prescribes the minimum fire safety guidelines for cooking equipment, exhaust hoods, grease removal devices, exhaust ductwork and all other components involved in the capture, containment and control of grease-laden cooking residue.
Clean your exhaust duct with the following frequency:
- Monthly if you use solid fuels, such as wood or charcoal.
- Quarterly if your kitchen operates at a high volume (i.e., if the restaurant does 24-hour cooking, extensive frying, charbroiling or wok cooking).
- Semiannually if your kitchen operates at a moderate volume.
- Annually for low-volume cooking operations, such as churches, day camps or seasonal businesses.
Preparation, Policies and Training
Make fire safety a regular part of your training process. If every member of your kitchen staff knows what to do and where to go, you can minimize damage and injury in the event of a fire. Preparing for the worst, and training your employees to be ready for kitchen fires, helps them to realize the possibility and consequences of such an event. Some basic policies and training will help them take greater care when doing something as simple as storing flammable materials or working with cooking equipment. Awareness is the first step of prevention.
Treat Fire Prevention as an Investment
A restaurant kitchen fire can risk lives, cost thousands of dollars, and bury an otherwise thriving business. This underscores how important it is to keep your equipment cleaned, maintained, inspected, and up to code. Beyond just the physical equipment, owners should keep staff on hand to maintain a clean kitchen, hire a certified kitchen exhaust cleaner to ensure the hood system is properly cleaned and free of grease, and invest in a quality fire suppression system maintenance program. Each of these components will help to protect against the catastrophic losses that can occur in a commercial kitchen fire.