Fire Safety Tips for Re-Opening Commercial Kitchens After Lockdown

John Gow

Commercial kitchens need a proactive approach to fire safety to recover quickly and safely from COVID-19.

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The hospitality industry has been hit extremely hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with virtually all restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues closing, or operating at limited capacity to contain the spread of infection. As governments around the world begin to slowly re-open their hospitality industries, business owners are being proactive to ensure they provide enhanced safety measures against the spread of the virus. For commercial kitchens, a proactive approach to fire safety is also a key factor in recovering quickly and safely from the dip in business. As these kitchens return to full service there are a couple of important considerations owners and operators need to consider to ensure their business continuity and avoid devastating fires at such a critical time.

Commercial kitchens are at a particularly high risk for fires and account for 10% of all large loss fires. The three main elements to ignite a fire are all abundantly present – oxygen, heat and fuel. The presence of open flames, frying oils, grease and other fuels pose a serious threat to safety if allowed to accumulate or are left unattended during the cooking process. For instance, if equipment and ducts were not properly cleaned prior to lockdown and not addressed prior to reopening, the buildup of grease – an excellent fuel source – could be an increased fire risk. Below are some best practices for fire safety in commercial kitchens.

Regular and Consistent Cleaning and Maintenance

A regular cleaning program to remove grease deposits at the end of the working day and a schedule of deep cleaning at frequent intervals in compliance with policy warranties helps to reduce fire risk. A lack of cleaning is often the root cause of many preventable commercial kitchen fires. When developing your cleaning program, consider what’s appropriate for the demands placed on the equipment and the amount of fatty residues produced. Working areas should be kept tidy with rubbish and bins cleared regularly to minimize available combustible material. Most insurance policies that refer to commercial kitchens have conditions which relate to the degree and frequency of extract cleaning.

With commercial kitchens out of use or in limited use, take this opportunity to make sure you’re up to date on maintenance and testing on equipment and ducts. In the UK, BS 9999 provides guidance on routine inspection and testing of ductwork. NFPA 96 is the standard outlining ventilation control and fire protection of commercial cooking operations and covers the U.S. and many other regions. Ducts and fire dampers are a crucial part of a safe commercial kitchen, and should be installed, maintained and testing according to the code by a trained fire expert.

Training and Re-training for Staff and Suppliers

Many kitchen fires happen because of human error, so it’s essential to train new staff and re-train returning staff on fire precautions. Thorough and consistent training of staff is perhaps the most important and highest impact action to be taken to ensure fire safety in commercial kitchens.

Training should include good cleaning measures, the risks posed by heat in the kitchen, and how to use fire blankets, extinguishers and gas and electrical isolation valves. Staff should know what emergency procedures are in place, when to remain and when to leave their station and how to summon emergency assistance in the event of a fire.

In addition to training, commercial kitchens will need to prepare to re-open with new best practices for cleanliness and hygiene. Coming out of lockdown may place significant demands on specialist companies involved in the cleaning of kitchen equipment, creating high demand and a backlog. By planning ahead, you can avoid bottlenecks and ensure the safety of your staff and patrons.

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