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Onion rings, french fries, cheese curds, fried chicken, Friday fish fry. Is your mouth watering yet? What do all of these have in common – aside from being delicious, of course? These are just a few of the culprits when it comes to the production of large amounts of grease involved with commercial cooking. While exhaust hoods are designed to collect a lot of these grease-laden vapors and residues during the cooking process, the commercial cooking equipment being used to heat up the food is often overlooked and can become a collection point for grease.
For each year from 2011 to 2013, an estimated 5,600 restaurant fires were reported to fire departments in the United States, resulting in no fewer than five deaths, 100 injuries, and $116 million in property damage. Of those 5,600 fires, 64% involved cooking and grease played a factor in nearly half of those incidents (Source: U.S. Fire Administration).
In addition to being the initial fuel for a fire, grease can also contribute to the fire spread and extent of damage. The higher the cooking surface temperature becomes, the more grease is transformed into a vapor state. Grease can be ignited by electricity or heat. The auto-ignition temperature of grease decreases as grease ages which means it is incredibly important to not let grease build up on any of your cooking equipment. Different cooking equipment and food products will produce varying degrees of grease, with deep fat fryers and stir-fry woks typically generating higher amounts than stove tops, open ranges, grills, and broilers.
The threat of fire can never be fully eliminated due to the production of large amounts of grease involved in commercial cooking; however, there are some easy precautions which can reduce the likelihood of losing your business due to a fire. The National Fire Protection Association’s fire code, NFPA 96, prescribes the minimum fire safety guidelines for cooking equipment and all other components involved in the capture, containment and control of grease-laden cooking residue. NFPA 96 11.6.2: “Hoods, grease removal devices, fans, ducts, cooking equipment…shall be cleaned to remove combustible contaminants prior to surfaces becoming heavily contaminated with grease or oily sludge.” The NFPA 96 standards are considered necessary to provide an appropriate level of property protection and loss of life.
Each piece of cooking equipment has its own unique design and characteristic, which means they should not all be treated equally. In order to know how to properly clean and maintain each piece of equipment, you should always refer to the manual or instructions provided by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
Even though every piece of equipment is different, you should make sure to clean all surface areas regularly to reduce and thoroughly cut down on grease accumulation. There are some easily identifiable characteristics which indicate grease is starting to build-up and action must be taken. A few key indicators that cooking equipment needs to be cleaned include:
- the presence of a yellow hue
- streaking on surfaces
- a slippery floor surrounding the equipment
Per NFPA 96, all cooking equipment must be inspected by a qualified individual at least annually. You should always keep a detailed record of who is maintaining this equipment, along with how often it is cleaned.
Due to the presence of oils, grease, and flames, it is impossible to create a 100% fireproof environment for your business. While the possibility of a fire cannot be eliminated, your actions involving the maintenance and cleaning of the cooking equipment greatly reduces your exposure to a major catastrophe.
Cooking equipment fires are the most common fire loss type for Society Insurance customers. Read more in Learning from Loss: Cooking Equipment Fires.
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