The consequences of not using trained kitchen exhaust cleaning (KEC) technicians can be devastating. According the U.S. Fire Administration, nearly 6,000 restaurant fires are reported each year in the United States. And, of those, a percentage, around 21 percent, depending on the year, are caused by a failure to clean. But the concern is for one restaurant: yours.
Restaurant fires are often kitchen exhaust system fires. It’s easy to look at that big hood and hear that fan and think that everything dangerous is being blown straight up and away, but that simply is not the case. The kitchen exhaust system comprises the hood, filters, plenum, fans and what may be a labyrinth of horizontal and vertical ductwork – and the parts that you can see are likely only a small portion of the whole.
Getting the cleaning job done correctly starts with the bid process. It’s not about who will do it for the least amount of money. “Hiring a certified cleaning contractor who is familiar with the applicable standards is nearly always safer than using a certified cleaner who charges a lower fee,” says Richard Martin of Martin Thermal Engineering, a fire investigator and frequent expert witness.
Matt Mongiello of Interior Maintenance Company, Inc., a kitchen exhaust cleaning company located in Pennsylvania, says restaurant owners and managers should look for a contractor that specifically states they will perform a complete cleaning of the entire kitchen exhaust system, mentioning all associated components. A contractor who only talks about the hood and filters is throwing up a red flag and can seriously hurt your business in the long run. It is also important to confirm that the contractor has proper insurance and qualifications to perform the work, he adds.
Proper documentation of the job is key. This should include identifiable before and after photographs of the work completed. As Oliver Moore, Deputy Utah State Fire Marshal, mentioned, a sticker is attached to the hood showing the name of the service company, the name of the person performing the work, and the date of inspection or cleaning. You should also expect a written report that details the work completed and specifies any areas that were inaccessible or not cleaned and why.
“The managers that do take the time to have their system cleaned properly are the most knowledgeable, not only about the components of their system, but why it works,” says Mongiello. “They understand that a properly cleaned system not only removes grease-laden vapors and protects them from fire, but also removes smoke, improves air flow, and increases energy-efficiency in their kitchen.”
As a restaurant owner, it is imperative that you get to know the twists and turns of your system. One way to do so is to hire a reputable, kitchen exhaust cleaning company with certified staff members, who will not only thoroughly clean it, but will provide you with photographic evidence of the work done in each corner and each component.
“Regardless of who is ultimately found responsible for a fire,” says Martin, “a restaurant’s ability to keep their doors open, maintain profitability, and preserve their reputation may hinge on their ability to keep their exhaust ducts properly cleaned.”
To find a qualified commercial kitchen exhaust contractor, visit the ‘Find a Member’ section of the International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Association website, www.ikeca.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more from the Society Insurance risk control team in this blog: 8 Steps to Reduce the Risk of Fire at Your Bar or Restaurant.