Whether you operate a quick-service chophouse or a five-star bistro, your restaurant kitchen is a hotbed of flammable materials and high-powered cooking methods. If you want to avoid disaster, it’s important to remember that your fire safety standards are just as unique and important as the food you serve and the number of customers you attract.
Despite modern safety innovations and strict health and safety standards, disaster does strike thousands of kitchens every year. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, American fire departments respond to about 5,600 restaurant fires each year. These fires cost an estimated $116 million in property damage alone annually, in addition to 100 injuries and even a few deaths.
Is your kitchen prepared to minimize the risks associated with your cooking methods, materials, and equipment? Fire hazards are common in most restaurant kitchens, but you can decrease your odds of disaster if you understand the specific safety precautions that each hazard requires.
Faulty Electrical Wiring
If you work in the restaurant industry, you’re already familiar with the importance of keeping your kitchen up-to-code. Local safety requirements and industry-wide safety standards don’t exist simply to prevent your customers from getting sick; they also apply to your power sources. Old, faulty, and exposed electrical wiring is a disaster waiting to happen, as are old kitchen appliances and breaker boxes.
To avoid an electrical fire, pay close attention to the maintenance requirements outlined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Your specific equipment, kitchen size, and other details will affect the maintenance standards you must follow. And even if you have a well-maintained electrical system, you must also make sure flammable materials don’t come into contact with wall outlets.
Clogged Hood Filters
Restaurant exhaust hoods are designed to eliminate excess grease, gases, smoke, and odors from your kitchen. They play a crucial role in keeping your restaurant safe and up-to-code, but they depend on a working and well-maintained filtration system to do the job properly.
When grease accumulates on hood filters, it makes them less efficient, but it also creates a new fire hazard right above your cooking surfaces. Know how to clean your exhaust hood properly, and make sure you and your staff prioritize this process. Follow both manufacturer recommendations and OHSA safety regulations. In case of quick buildup or human error, make sure you also have a Class K Kitchen Fire Extinguisher exactly 20 feet from all stovetops.
Oily Rags and Towels
Your kitchen staff may use rags to wipe grease, oil, and other flammable substances off your kitchen surfaces throughout the day. It’s important to prevent these liquids from building up and creating fire hazards, but the rags themselves become fire hazards too. Don’t let highly combustible materials accumulate in your kitchen.
According to the National Fire Protection agency, grease accumulation actually causes 21 percent of all restaurant fires. Spontaneous combustion is a very real risk when large amounts of grease are concentrated in one place, so make sure no one leaves oily rags or towels lying around. After a rag is used to wipe down grease, it should be contained in a non-flammable trash or laundry bin, preferably outside the kitchen area.
Burning Solid Fuels
Any fuels that produce excess heat or smoke will also require extra safety precautions. If you cook with solid fuel such as charcoal, briquettes, hardwood, or mesquite, you must have a working and well-maintained filtration system that prevents smoke and carbon monoxide buildup. You must also make sure it properly eliminates the flammable debris left behind.
If flying debris from solid fuel gets into your ductwork, it could create a fire that’s very difficult to contain or extinguish. Invest in an industrial spark arrestor hood filter that serves as a fire barrier and includes a runoff system to collect grease and debris.
Cooking with Oil
Vegetable oil is healthier and more affordable than animal fat, so many modern restaurants prefer to cook with it instead. Both are flammable, but vegetable oils burn at higher temperatures than animal fat, so when fire does happen, it’s harder to contain and extinguish.
Make sure you have a wet chemical suppression system in place. This is the only type of fire suppression system that can handle the higher temperatures and risks associated with vegetable oil fires. Of course, to keep your suppression system efficient, you must also follow proper safety and maintenance standards. Schedule regular tune-ups and inspections to make sure the nozzles aren’t clogged with grease or facing the wrong direction.
Eliminate Common Restaurant Fire Hazards
No one wants a fire to break out in their restaurant, but if you fall behind on your maintenance schedule or settle for inferior appliances and safety equipment, you are inviting that risk. Make sure you hold your staff to strict safety practices, and remind them that your kitchen rules are designed to protect them too. Fire is a risk in any environment with open flames and electrical equipment, but you have the power to protect your property and prevent unnecessary injury with proper kitchen safety measures.