With foodservice operators looking at every dollar, there is a tendency to prolong or forego necessary maintenance and service. In the case of ventilation and exhaust systems, this mistake may not only be costly, but could also be deadly.
Cleaning and inspecting exhaust hoods and ventilation systems is required under NFPA 96: Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations. It's important to note that fire suppression systems will not protect ductwork or roof exhaust fans.
Those who are not involved in the kitchen's design tend to focus on the menu rather than kitchen ventilation. Yet, in terms of regular maintenance and service, it's important to be educated on the operation of ventilation and exhaust systems to know what upkeep is required and why.
One of the most common mistakes in maintaining these systems is neglecting to clean the filters. Because this is where grease buildup is greatest, ignoring this task can create a real fire hazard. Depending on the operation's volume, menu items and level of frying, filters should be regularly cleaned either on a daily or weekly basis.
Although pricier, more efficient filters will last longer and require less cleaning, these will still have grease buildup that needs attention.
Another often overlooked task involves cleaning the grease collection devices by roof exhaust fans. Over time, these can fill with both grease and water, overflowing onto rooftops and creating a fire hazard. Operators are advised to check these boxes periodically and clean them out when necessary.
Operators also can give fans a visual inspection at this time to ensure the belt is intact.
NFPA 96 requires that systems serving solid fuel cooking operations conduct monthly grease inspections. In high-volume cooking operations, such as those with extensive charbroiling, wok cooking or those that are open 24 hours, these systems require quarterly grease inspections. Moderate volume operations will require semi-annual grease monitoring, while low-volume foodservice facilities can check for buildup once a year.
It's important that grease buildup is removed down to the bare metal. Also, ensure that not only the hood's interior and exterior are properly cleaned, but also the filters, up into the exhaust fan and inside the duct work.
NFPA 96 requires that inspection, testing and maintenance of listed hoods containing mechanical, water spray or ultra violet devices be tested by qualified and certified agents every six months or at the frequency recommended by the system's manufacturer.
One common misperception is that hiring a professional company ensures that the ventilation and exhaust systems will be properly cleaned. There are less than reputable firms that may clean only the parts of the system that are visible and neglect other important components that attract grease.
When seeking qualified service companies, operators can look to The International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Association (IKECA), which educates and certifies companies on cleaning, training and standards.
Before committing to hiring a professional service agent, request before and after photos of duct cleaning to ensure the work is done properly. Many companies will offer to do this even when not asked.
The effectiveness of exhaust and ventilation systems is directly tied to maintenance. To keep energy costs as low as possible, provide comfortable kitchen temperatures, remove odors and, most importantly, prevent a fire hazard regular service and maintenance are key.