Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Your Hoods just got cleaned, BUT are you fire safe?

By Karl Riekstins
Partner & Co-Founder
Grexen Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning®

So you've just had your restaurant hoods cleaned. They look pretty good! All shined up with the baffle filters looking better than usual, floor was washed and all the pilot lights have been re-lit. Question is: has the hood 'system' been cleaned to the point that there is no risk for a grease fire and to the satisfaction of the fire department, or to yourself?

This is something I encounter almost every time I visit a potential customer's establishment. The first question I ask prior to conducting the hood cleaning inspection is: " Are you happy with the quality of the work you are receiving from your current cleaner?"

The response is usually some thing like this: "They're pretty good. They show up on time, and the hood always looks good! 
Then I pose the bigger question:" Do you think they clean the entire system?" They go on the roof, so they must be cleaning the fan too. Ive been through 5 hood cleaners in the last 9 years. They are the best of the bunch"

I've heard this hundreds of times before. This was a recent conversation I had with a GM of a prominent bar & grill franchise last week and it helps illustrate my point.

picture of newly cleaned hood
The hood does look good! Then I removed a shiny filter and took one picture and showed it to him.

hood opening - vertical
example of hood opening - horizontal

This is the opening to the duct system. The hardest to reach area, the toughest to clean and the area that poses the greatest risk for a grease fire. It also happens to be invisible from the kitchen.

This bodes quite well for the irresponsible and greedy hood cleaner that would like to shave off half the cleaning time. The Owner/GM/kitchen manager wont know and there will be enough time to clean at least two more locations that night.
The surprising thing to me is that it doesn't matter how long I keep doing inspections, I see the same thing every day. 
With every passing cleaning, the grease buildup in the duct network thickens and risk for fire increase exponentially.

So, the obvious question is: How do you make sure that your hood cleaner is cleaning your entire system to fire code standards, vis-a-vis to bare metal?

1) Pop open a filter in the hood, locate the opening to the duct.

2) Look straight up the hole, if you see the fan blades then the duct is vertical. If you don't, it likely has a horizontal duct run that connects the vertical duct that leads to the fan.

3) Stick a digital camera or smart phone, preferably one with a flash into the opening. Take a pic and find out how good your hood cleaner really is.If you see more than a thin film of grease, then it's reasonable to believe that the duct network has been missed.

My recommendation would be to hire a company that provides before & after pictures after every cleaning. I would also advise that you or a staff member check the duct opening in the hood periodically just to make sure that you and your business are fire safe.

This is a photo of a properly cleaned duct opening with its horizontal duct run in the proceeding photograph.

'Hood Cleaning' or what we prefer to call 'Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning' is a serious business with serious consequences. It is our duty to protect our customers from the risk of fire. Even if it means that the crew spends the whole night getting it done.
It's the right thing to do.