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- Fire suppression system/ fire extinguisher tags out of date.When a kitchen suppression system is serviced, a tag should be left by the servicing company indicating the service date. An out-of-date tag indicates that the system is not being serviced regularly.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.