Another day, another grease fire.
A simple Google search for “restaurant + fire” quickly reveals news articles on more than 60 restaurant fires in the U.S. during the past month alone. Take a closer look and you’ll see a definite pattern emerge regarding the cause of those fires — grease buildup. In fact, according to a recent report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), one in five fires at eating and drinking establishments had “failure to clean” listed as a contributing factor.
The NFPA study showed an average of nearly 8,000 reported fires and $246 million in property damage, with grease related fires costing restaurant owners an average of more than $50 million per year. With statistics like these, it’s easy to see why grease vapor accumulation in hood systems and ductwork is one of the biggest hazards facing commercial kitchens today.
Costly repairs, loss of revenue, and the possibility of temporarily – or permanently – closing your establishment gives even the smallest fire the potential to be a business-ending catastrophe.
From $100,000 worth of damages at a Burger King in Boston, Massachusetts and more than $750,000 in damages at the El Pollo Rico chicken restaurant in Wheaton, Maryland, to a whopping $1 million in damages at the aptly named Flames café in San Jose, California, grease fires are shutting down restaurants of all kinds every single day.
Beware of hidden dangers lurking in your restaurant.
There’s no denying it. If you don’t keep your kitchen exhaust system clean, you’re going to get burned. When hood systems are not regularly cleaned, as much as three inches of grease can accumulate on the bottom of horizontal duct sections. Improperly cleaned hoods that are supposed to help contain fires may instead accelerate them. Jonathan Hart, a fire protection engineer with the NFPA explains, “When you have a dirty duct, that can act like a fuel.”
Some types of grease buildup can even cause fire-extinguishing systems to malfunction by plugging up their mechanisms. According to the NFPA, this grease buildup is one of the primary causes of commercial kitchen fire-extinguishing system failure and only adds to the hazards of improperly cleaned hoods.
Even more frequently overlooked is rooftop grease. Grease vapor travels up through the exhaust system and solidifies onto the fan blades and housing, causing a buildup of grease that eventually runs onto the rooftop. Without a rooftop grease containment system in place, not only does the grease buildup become additional fuel for fires, it can cause significant and costly structural damage. But the problem doesn’t stop there; the grease also becomes an environmental hazard when it runs off into the water drainage system, which can result in regulatory fines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Don’t fall into the grease trap!
When it comes to fires, a good offense is your best defense. Unfortunately, many busy restaurant operators have trouble finding time to schedule their kitchen exhaust cleaning. But the worst thing you can do is to skip them. Be proactive and establish a cleaning and maintenance plan with a professional hood cleaning company that adheres to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
Another very important part of protecting your establishment against grease related fires is ensuring that you select the right type of hood filters. With so many variables, it’s easy to make mistakes like picking the wrong filter for the job. Our Hood Filter Buying Guide takes the guesswork out of which filter to buy and answers common questions about ensuring the proper fit, correct installation, when to replace, and compliance requirements.
Keeping it clean.
Just how often do hood systems and filters need to be cleaned? That usually depends on the type of food prepared and the number of hours your vents are in use per day. Most hood filters perform at their best with a daily or weekly cleaning and a professional cleaning of your entire exhaust system is recommended at least 2 – 3 times per year.
It’s important to remember that grease-laden filters are just as dangerous as dirty ductwork. They can also increase your utility costs and affect your health inspection score. However, hood filter cleaning doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to implement a regular cleaning routine, which will make them last longer and significantly reduce your risk of fire.
This may come as a surprise, but good old-fashioned hand washing remains the most effective way to keep hood filters clean. However, many foodservice operators find it easier to invest in a deep soak system like a Hood Filter Soak Cart. It holds as many as 6 filters for efficient cleaning that minimizes time and labor costs.
Restaurant owners looking for more information on fire safety best practices and requirements may find the National Fire Protection Association website a helpful resource. There, you can find current information on “NFPA 96: Standard For Ventilation Control And Fire Protection Of Commercial Cooking Operations” as well as research, safety and training information.
Start reducing your risk right away.
There will always be a risk for fire in commercial kitchens, but following a few simple precautions, restaurant owners can easily lower that risk and safeguard their business.
Use approved hoods with grease-tight fittings; make sure you have the right hood filters and make sure they are cleaned on a regular schedule; use a rooftop grease containment system; and schedule routine cleaning and maintenance of your kitchen exhaust system to avoid excess grease accumulation.
For more information on hood filters, hood cleaning products and grease containment systems visit the HoodFilters.com website or call us at 877.394.9731 to speak with one of our product specialists.