It’s no secret that restaurants around the globe are suffering. Kitchens are shutting down, some restaurants are transitioning to curbside pickup or to-go, and one ominous truth is echoing throughout the kitchen exhaust cleaning community: Restaurants are declining services. Restaurants and kitchens that were scheduled to be cleaned between March and May have cancelled their kitchen exhaust cleaning services.
As Eric Dyer wrote in his article Covid-19 Restaurant Shutdowns: The Dangers of >72 in a Grease Duct, “The abrupt closing of full-service restaurants and bars across the United States caused most of these businesses to immediately cancel all upcoming services, including hood cleaning and fire suppression inspections. Additionally, a lot of takeout restaurants that remained open failed to schedule these services citing ‘decreases’ in business. Regardless of the operational status of their kitchens, one truth remains the same: all their exhaust systems are loaded with more than three months of grease buildup.”
Now buildings are either sitting there with grease buildup throughout the system, or they are still cooking to provide for pickup and to-go services. Either way, leaving grease to sit or buildup in an exhaust system can yield dangerous consequences. This problem has been exacerbated by COVID-19, but it is not new. Pictures and videos of restaurants failing in their preventative maintenance are common. As a leader in NFPA 96 standard solutions, Omni Containment Systems wishes to outline for our clients what to do when you are declined for a service.
Open & Honest Communication
Having open and honest communication with your customers about the dangers of leaving grease to buildup in kitchen exhaust systems is the first step to helping them understand why they still need your services. To start, kitchens need to understand that there are three types of fat in a kitchen exhaust system: Liquid, solid, and trans. Dyer writes, “During cooking, all these fats are liquefied, aerosolized, and pulled through the kitchen exhaust system at the molecular level. As they pass through the system, they cool, collect, and return to a form of their natural state. Because the majority of fats are from animal and trans fats, most of the grease reforms as a solid throughout the system.
The timing of Covid-19 caused our nation’s restaurants to close during the cooler spring months. This meant the temperature inside of those exhaust systems was cooler than room temperature. However, as the temperature rises outside, it will rise inside of grease ducts as well, but at a higher rate. Unventilated ducts can reach temperatures exceeding 125°F inside of the building, and over 150°F in the areas attached to rooftop mounted exhaust fans. Just imagine what that does to solid fats. Under normal conditions, restaurant exhaust fans are running 18-24 hrs/day pulling cool kitchen air through the system. However, kitchens are closed and exhaust fans are not running. So, no cool air has been moving through the ducts for most of the past month.”
The NFPA 96 fire code states the following for hood inspection & cleaning:
11.4 – Inspection for Grease Buildup. The entire exhaust system shall be inspected for grease buildup by a properly trained, qualified, and certified company or person(s) acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction and in accordance with Table 11.4
Table 11.4 Schedule of Inspection for Grease Buildup
The NFPA issued this press release in response to restaurants declining their services due to low occupancy status. It states, “The National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®), a global leader in fire, life and electrical safety, is urging officials to ensure that fire protection and life safety systems be maintained in all commercial and multi-occupancy residential buildings throughout the global pandemic. NFPA further urges that the personnel and vendors that service those systems be deemed essential.” Read more of their tips in the full release.
The NFPA is currently offering resources to explain how to conduct remote video inspections when access to buildings is limited. This is a great skill to have as a routine kitchen exhaust cleaning service. “We need to be as creative and forward-thinking as possible to ensure that communities remain adequately protected from fire and other emergencies,” said Kevin Carr, senior fire protection specialist at NFPA. You can access the release for remote video inspection guidance here.
After you have tried educating your customer on the importance of maintaining their kitchen exhaust cleaning but they are still declining your services, it’s time to document. Ultimately, the NFPA 96 4.1.5 states that the responsibility of an establishment lies with the owner of the establishment, “The responsibility for inspection, maintenance, and cleanliness of the ventilation control and fire protection of the commercial cooking operations shall ultimately be that of the owner of the system, provided that this responsibility has not been transferred in written form to a management company, tenant, or other party.”
However, it’s still imperative that you cover all your bases and document the conversations you have with your customers. You will want to make sure you have documentation covering the following: 1) Date of last service 2) All communication including invitation to pre-inspect kitchen exhaust grease buildup, ease of access to kitchen exhaust, upblast exhaust fan hinge compliance, and grease dumpsters 3) Service reminders 4) Service expiration 5) Notice of non-compliance 6) Notice of report to local AHJ.
Reporting a customer to their local AHJ shows your company’s integrity and dedication to life and property safety. You will be able to build partnerships with the local AHJs, understand what those AHJs are looking for, and establish communication channels with them for local law enforcement. Bottom line is the kitchen exhaust cleaning community is essential to life and property safety.
Reputable kitchen exhaust cleaning services are not out to make a quick buck. They are passionate about protecting against the devastation of fire. They are agents who make facilities NFPA 96 compliant and often work hand-in-hand with AHJs to ensure the general public is protected from the risk of fire, injury, and death. When customers can understand that the kitchen exhaust community is around to serve and help them, they may think twice about declining these services. Education is the first step to building solid relationships. If you have any questions or want to add to this piece, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org