Turn Down the Heat on Fire Risk

by Katie Lee

All restaurants have the ingredients for one thing in common: fires.

By Mark Copeland

The busy hustle and bustle of restaurants can often pose safety risks to restaurant owners and their employees. In addition to common injuries, such as cuts, lacerations and punctures, and slips, trips and falls, there is one big unforeseen safety risk that restaurants have all the ingredients for: fires.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nearly 8,000 eating and drinking establishments report fires each year, accruing an annual average of $246 million in direct property damage. However, being mindful of kitchen “hot spots” and investing in safety solutions can go a long way in keeping your employees safe and your business fire-proof.

Kitchen Hot Spots

From open flames and cooking oils, to cleaning chemicals and electrical connections, a devastating blow is only a spark away. Problems with equipment — poor equipment installation, inadequate equipment maintenance or an equipment malfunction — are the cause of 61% of fires.

While exhaust systems are responsible for removing grease, smoke and steam from the cook surface to minimize fire fuel near the ignition source, these elements can be deposited on the walls of the hood, flue/stack and fan. As a result, restaurants with improperly cleaned exhaust system equipment — from the ventilation ducts to the roof fan — are at an elevated risk, even after any fire at the cooking station has been extinguished.

Finally, improper training of employees on how to work with equipment and insufficient cleaning of the back of house are all potential sources of fire ignition. However, there are several proactive steps that restaurant owners can take to help prevent fires in kitchens.

4 Tips for Extinguishing Risk

Many restaurants go years without a reportable accident, yet some last only months or weeks. It all has to do with the safety training that is established and the behavior that is expected. When managers have high expectations for safety compliance and treat it as importantly as other organizational goals, their restaurant becomes safer for everyone. Several steps can be taken to prepare for an emergency:

  1. Create a custom preventive maintenance plan. Installing an automatic fire suppression system, placing portable fire extinguishers in easy-to-access locations, and scheduling regular maintenance and inspections on exhaust systems are just some measures to consider.
  1. Train your staff. All employees should know where to find and how to properly use a fire extinguisher. When cleaning, staff should always ensure that grease is properly removed in areas such as the exhaust hood, and the right chemical solutions are used for the cleaning jobs at hand.
  1. Have an emergency plan for employees. If a fire breaks out in your restaurant, you want to ensure that your staff is in control of the situation. Train at least one worker per shift on how to shut off gas and electrical power in case of an emergency. In addition, designate one staff member per shift to be the evacuation manager responsible for dialing 911 and determining when evacuation is necessary.
  1. Keep things clean — constantly. Traditional hood and flue cleaners require a cleaning crew to come on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Restaurant owners have to completely shut down their kitchen to scrape or wash away greases with harsh chemicals, often leaving behind a mess or damaged equipment. Investing in automated hood and flue cleaning systems can minimize fire risk and allow restaurants to remain open for business. These systems clean with a powerful spray mixture of detergent and water to prevent hazardous grease buildup through sprayers along the hood and up the flue to the exhaust fan. The delivery system controls when your cleaning is initiated, meaning you never have to think about it, and your employees don’t have to put themselves at risk while trying to meet standards.

Fire-Proof Solutions for Peace of Mind

In an industry that continually faces the risk of fires, it’s always better to be overly safe than sorry. It’s one thing to be aware of the costly claims and devastating damage; it’s another to take action — now.

Kitchens that are created with safety in mind are only as strong as those who call it their second home. While certain measures and practices can help remove human error, emergencies can still occur. New threats and automated prevention technologies emerge frequently, and it’s crucial for facility managers to stay up to date no matter the kitchen setting. It’s critical to consistently practice prevention and always have a plan for emergencies.


— Mark Copeland is senior vice president of new product development for Restaurant Technologies, a leading provider of cooking-oil management and back-of-house exhaust cleaning solutions to over 25,000 national quick-service and full-service restaurant chains, independent restaurants, grocery delis and more. Prior to joining Restaurant Technologies, Copeland had 25 years of marketing and sales experience in both Europe and the U.S., serving on the marketing teams of Ecolab, Metro Group and SC Johnson. For more information, email the marketing manager, Whitney Murphy, at [email protected].

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