The best time to talk to kids about drugs is before they have had a chance to try them. Likewise, the best time to teach staff the best way to extinguish a grease fire is before the stove is aflame. If staff is unaware of how to deal with the problem, chances are something will be tossed on the flames that will only make a bad situation worse.

The importance of clean living

Start the conversation by informing staff how to avoid a grease fire. The No. 1 way to prevent a grease fire is simple enough: no grease, no fire. It’s important for every operator to understand when and how to clean all the kitchen areas that get greasy. Anyone who has spent time in a kitchen knows where grease collects: in the hood, ducts, grills, vents, filters and fans, as well as in and around all sorts of hot line equipment, especially deep-fat fryers.

The drip trays in stovetops and under broilers are the fastest to get greasy and the quickest to go up in flames. Because of the proximity to open flames, the drip trays are the most popular spot for fires. These areas need nightly cleaning, and in extreme high-volume restaurants, sometimes after each shift. Layer the cleaned area with heavy-duty aluminum foil, and nightly cleanup will be a breeze.

Fat fryers are also grease bombs

A fryer left to collect cooked-on grease along with food debris, is a fire waiting to happen. They should be wiped clean each time the oil is filtered, and completely cleaned at least once a week, or whenever the oil is replaced. Remember to also clean the inside and the back of the fryer where grease can collect and puddle.

Spring cleaning

Cleaning the hood and exhaust system regularly is the simplest way to avoid a fire that can ruin business. Staying on a cleaning schedule is important but you should also consider seasonality. Cleaning the hood twice from October through December may be necessary, but you may be able to save some money with only one cleaning January through March.

Make sure the hood cleaning includes a filter exchange program for the restaurant so that professionally cleaned filters are a part of the effort every time the service cleans the hood. Also, the filters should be cleaned at least weekly in-house, keeping the bulk of grease and dirt out of the exhaust system. Keeping the hood clean will keep the restaurant from possibly burning down in the event of a large kitchen fire. Once the fire spreads into the hood, the fire suppression system won’t keep the roof from being the next target.

Firefighting

In the heat of service, sauté pans can easily overheat. A grease fire can break out the minute a low-smoke-point fat, like clarified butter, is added to the super-heated pan. These fires can spread easily if the cook panics and moves the pan too quickly and the fat spills. Cooks are in the most danger from this kind of volatile grease fire.

Pans with a grease fire should never be moved

A small pan fire can easily be extinguished by calmly placing another pan or lid atop, taking the oxygen out of the equation. The key is to keep the fire in the pan. Baking soda can also safely kill a small pan fire. Never use liquid like water or milk. The fire will splash and spread quickly.

Baking soda is also effective for small drip pan fires that can flare up during a very busy service. Baking soda, which is not flammable, works by choking the oxygen from the fire. Conversely, some might think that flour or cornstarch would do the trick as well, but these items will worsen the situation because they are flammable. Never use flour or cornstarch on any kind of fire, grease or otherwise.

With this kind of grease fire, it’s smart for the cooks to understand the chemistry of cooking oils. Vegetable oil burns hotter than animal fat. So even though the smoke point is much higher on, say, grape seed oil than it is on clarified butter, the fire burning from grape seed oil will be harder to extinguish. That’s when the trusty kitchen K-rated fire extinguisher is best to have in hand. K-rated is the only type of fire extinguisher that should be in a commercial kitchen. Designed for cooking oils — vegetable and animal — the K-rated is made for well-insulated cooking appliances.

Keeping these fire extinguishers updated is vital for kitchen safety and for satisfying the fire inspector. Make sure someone in the restaurant is responsible for overseeing maintenance and inspection of all fire protection devices, including the fire suppression system. Also, all employees should receive ongoing fire safety training, including multilingual training and signage where necessary.

Preventing Grease Fires

Try to avoid grease fires in your commercial kitchen by following these safety and prevention tips:

  • Make fire safety a regular part of your training process. 
  • Train your staff on how to maintain a kitchen that’s free of fire hazards. 
  • Ensure your restaurant has fire extinguishers that are tested, maintained and easily accessible. 
  • Make sure all staff know where the fire extinguishers are located, and how to replace them. 
  • A fire-suppression system should also be installed to automatically dispense chemicals to stop the fire. 
  • Ensure all employees clean up any grease spills immediately. 
  • Never a heating pan of grease or oil unattended. Keep a close eye on it. 
  • If you see wisps of smoke or smell something acrid, immediately turn down the heat or remove the pan from the heat. 
  • Clean your ventilation system regularly to avoid grease buildup from blocking the vents and preventing air flow. 
  • Schedule a regular hood cleaning. Professional cleaning & inspection will ensure everything is working properly, which will keep your kitchen from becoming too hot. 
  • Fire codes call for quarterly inspections of systems in high-volume operations.

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