How can kitchen fires be prevented?

By David Godfrey on Sep 26th, 2020

During 2010-2014, an estimated average of 7,410 structure fires in eating and drinking establishments were reported to U.S. fire departments each year. These fires resulted in associated annual losses of:

  • Three civilian deaths
  • 110 civilian injuries
  • $165 million in property damage

Cooking equipment was the leading cause of fires in these properties, accounting for three out of five fires (61%) and 38% of direct property damage.

  • Deep fryers were involved in one of five fires (21%) and ranges or cooktops were involved in 14% of fires.
  • Failure to clean was a factor in 22% of the fires in these properties.

Source: Structure Fires in Eating and Drinking Establishments, Richard Campbell NFPA, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02169, www.nfpa.org Research, Data and Analytics Division, research@nfpa.org

If 22% of kitchen fires can be attributed to a failure to clean, then cleaning would be a good start.  Although cleaning is a simple process of “just cleaning” why is it so hard for staff or site managers to get it right?

What are the effects of a kitchen fire in an eating or drinking establishment?

  • Loss of life
  • Property damage
  • Loss of income
  • Damages your reputation as a safe clean establishment
  • Valuable employees out of work and possibly getting hired by your competition
  • Valuable customers finding a “new” favorite place to eat or drink
  • Higher insurance costs
  • Lawsuits and litigation
  • Fines or imprisonment

This report from the NFPA puts a sobering view on the importance of cleaning in commercial kitchens. “Failure to clean was a factor in 22% of the fires” says these fires could have been preventable.  

How can kitchen fires be prevented?

If 22% of kitchen fires can be attributed to a failure to clean, then cleaning would be a good start.  Although cleaning is a simple process of “just cleaning” why is it so hard for staff or site managers to get it right?  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Train – You must get your team to buy into WHY it’s important, so they’ll want to clean.  Look at the 2 examples below and decide which training approach is better:

  • Clean the walls behind the fryer once a week or you are fired!

       OR

  • 22% of kitchen fires were because of a failure to clean.  Grease is flammable and if grease builds up it becomes a fire hazard resulting in a loss of life, permanent injury or at the very least, loss of work until the kitchen is restored.  If we keep a clean kitchen you stay healthy and employed.

The first intimidation technique does not create loyalty – the employee will leave you once they find a better employer.  Staff turnover is expensive as is losing valuable employees who will go work for your competition.  

2. Supervision – Make managers or team leaders responsible for ensuring proper cleaning procedures are used.

3. Validate – Perform regular inspections or audits to validate the work is getting done or if you have multiple sites use a validation app such as FotoFinish.

4. Schedule – Either a calendar or a daily-weekly-monthly-quarterly cleaning schedule will do fine.

  • The schedule must include all tasks necessary to keep you, your employees, and your property safe from health and safety dangers
  • Post the schedule in an easy access location
  • Review the schedule with your employees
  • A schedule is not worth the paper it is written on if it is not followed

5. Checklist – to supplement the cleaning schedule use a checklist.

  • As each task is completed mark it as completed
  • A checklist that requires a signature or personal validation is best

6. Research – the more you know the more you know!

  • Find out from your equipment supplier what their recommended best practices are
  • Chemicals and cleaning equipment come down to “you get what you pay for”  Consult with professionals who know the chemistry of their cleaning chemicals so you know you have the right product to do the job

7. Multiple Sites - If you have multiple sites you might need some help.  As a head office it is your responsibility to make sure all your sites are following your “recipe” of best practices policies and procedures.

  • Schedule regular audits
  • There are several programs and apps such as Fotofinish to help manage multiple sites

In summary, if you follow these 3 steps, you’ll always have a safe clean environment for you, your staff and your customers.

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