If you run or work in a food business, you’ll need to know how to work safely with heat. You may have multiple cooking appliances operating at once, and it’s all too easy for someone to slip up and cause a fire that could destroy everything you’ve worked for.
Businesses should have a fire safety plan in place, and cooks and other kitchen staff need to know not only how to prevent fires, but how to put them out quickly if they do ignite.
Here are some tips on how to prevent fires, and how to properly and safely extinguish them in a commercial kitchen.
Never leave cooking food unattended
Plenty of fires start because food was left unattended while it was cooking. Even if you or other staff only need to step out of the kitchen for a moment, it’s best to ensure someone else is there to watch any food on the stove, in the oven, in a microwave, or any other heat source. If you must leave the kitchen alone, turn off broilers or burners and remove pots and pans — it may seem inconvenient, but nothing is more inconvenient than dealing with the aftermath of a fire!
Ensure objects are well away from stoves
It goes without saying that you should store flammable liquids such as cooking oils properly, and not too close to sources of heat. But items such as an oven mitt, a kitchen towel, a dangling cord from an appliance and even a chef’s apron could all start a fire if they’re left in the wrong place, too close to a stove. Loose clothing or people’s hair could get in the way and cause a fire or an injury.
To avoid any problems, make sure hair is restrained, staff have their aprons tied neatly, and that they don’t make a habit of leaving stray items near sources of heat. Keep cooking areas clear of any unnecessary items.
Implement a rigorous cleaning schedule
In a commercial kitchen, fires often start when flare-ups ignite grease residues on filters or within the exhaust duct. Buildups of grease and oil are inevitable, but because these substances are highly flammable, you need to make sure they’re removed or cleaned before they accumulate at dangerous levels. Walls, rangers, grills, fryers, hood filters — these should all be cleaned often and well. And never leave greasy rags that were used to clean near sources of heat, as these could spontaneously combust!
A cleaning schedule should also include ridding the premises of items such as cardboard boxes or food packaging.
Maintain kitchen equipment
Old, poorly maintained appliances could have faulty wiring, for example, and lead to a fire. Have vents and hood ducts cleaned regularly by a certified hood cleaning specialist on a semi-annual basis.
Check electrical wiring. Make sure circuits aren’t overloaded, there are no faulty or frayed cords, and extension cords aren’t being used improperly. All of these are fire hazards!
Prep heat detectors and extinguishers
Because smoke from cooking is commonplace in a commercial kitchen, you likely should not rely on a smoke alarm, but instead should have what’s called a heat detector. A heat detector’s alarm is designed to go off when a rapid temperature rise is detected, or when a preset temperature is reached. Keep fresh batteries stocked and ensure staff know where they are, and change them out regularly.
A commercial kitchen also requires a K-class fire extinguisher mounted in the vicinity. An all-purpose extinguisher is not adequate. You should have a licensed fire service provider perform a monthly inspection and annual maintenance to ensure your extinguishers are compliant with code and will function during an emergency. Make sure staff know where the extinguisher is and how to use it.
Note: never use water to put out a grease fire! And have an escape plan ready in case a fire burns out of control.
Have a fire suppression system
In a commercial environment, it’s not enough to simply have a fire extinguisher — you need a fire suppression system, which must be a wet chemical system that meets current codes for kitchens that do deep-frying or grilling. A suppression system protects your most valuable equipment in the event of a fire.
Have a certified fire protection provider assess your kitchen to make sure each piece of equipment required by code is covered by the fire suppression system. Have them re-evaluate the system any time you move equipment around, and maintain the system semi-annually.
Train, train and train some more!
A food business should have an emergency action plan and conduct emergency evacuation drills. Incorporate fire prevention techniques and best practices into all employee training.
Remember: it’s important for food businesses to ensure they know the fire safety regulations in their area, to meet all those regulations and to have qualified professionals conduct regular inspections of your premises and equipment. The safety of your business depends on it!