Commercial Kitchen Risk Management Part Two: Exhaust Hoods

The second installment in my series on Risk Management in Commercial Kitchens focuses on the exhaust hood, that often-overlooked big silver box sitting in the back of the house.

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Because it sits there doing its job, it is easy to forget this equipment requires regular maintenance and safety checks to ensure it is functioning properly and not putting the business and its employees and patrons at risk.

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With that in mind, let's take a closer look at exhaust hoods.

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Are you aware of all the components associated with an exhaust system? How often are your exhaust hoods and systems cleaned and inspected?

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Rather than go into an exhaustive (pun intended) essay on exhaust system technology, the basic components of exhaust systems include the exhaust hood, filters, lights, duct work and associated fire dampers/connection collars/clean out panels, exhaust fans /make up air systems, and fire suppression systems. Often the exhaust system is turned on in the morning and off at closing, without much thought devoted to overall maintenance concerns. Problems surface when something breaks causing the system to malfunction, or possibly creating a fire hazard. With the exception of a fire, most cases are presented with a call from kitchen staff saying, "The exhaust hood is not working."

Well, if you think about it, the exhaust hood is just a stainless steel box that sits there doing nothing. It's the system that creates the problem. My friend Don Fischer would argue the "box" is integral to the system and produces an environment allowing the system to work. I would agree, however for this discussion, let's assume the "box" has been engineered correctly and is not part of the problem.

The answer too many exhaust system risk concerns center on the second question posed earlier, namely: How often are your exhaust hoods and systems cleaned and inspected? Exhaust systems should be cleaned on a daily basis and inspected regularly from qualified maintenance companies and/or staff. These are complicated systems and require regular maintenance and cleaning. Proper maintenance and cleaning will help avoid break downs, high energy costs, roof damage and fires. Put these systems high on your list for detailed inspection and cleaning schedules. Have each component inspected regularly with are inspection reporting easily interpreted and accessible. Additionally, a poorly functioning exhaust system will create a non suitable environment for your staff and customers, leading to labor issues and loss of business. Uncomfortable employees may not notice how their work environment affects productivity and attitude, and customers may not come back due to foul smells or uncomfortable humidity levels in the dining room. Personally, I will leave a restaurant if the exhaust system is not working properly, as I don't like to dine in a greasy environment, and abhor the odor in my hair and clothes when exposed to poorly ventilated spaces.
Here is the first article in this series: Risk Management in Kitchen and Dining Room Spaces.
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