Ask foodservice operators what they fear could go wrong in their kitchen and fire will make the list ten times out of ten. Fortunately, operators can take several steps to limit the chance of a kitchen fire and its devastating effects.

Not cleaning properly creates the biggest fire risk, says Paul Sturgess, a Commercial Food Equipment Service Association master certified technician with Albany, Ga.-based SAM Service. While the owner’s manuals for most equipment call for daily cleaning, many operators simply don’t follow these instructions.

Go into some operations and “you can see grease caked on everything, on the controls and inside the panels. It’s a mess,” Sturgess says. Such obvious grease buildup presents a clear fire hazard that operators can eliminate with simple cleaning.

Some cleaning-related fire hazards aren’t so front and center. Many times, says Sturgess, he’ll pull out a piece of seemingly clean foodservice equipment for maintenance or repair only to find grease caked on its back, underneath the unit or on the wall behind the unit.

Finding this sort of problem emphasizes not just the importance of cleanliness but the value of a planned maintenance program when it comes to mitigating fire risks. Service professionals can perform the deep cleanings and checkups that are difficult to keep up with or execute for regular kitchen staff. This includes cleaning parts inside the unit, such as interior burners, vents and fans. In the wrong circumstances, a clog or block can cause one of these components to fail, leading to a fire, Sturgess says.

Planned maintenance can also mitigate fire risks caused by aging, Sturgess adds. Sometimes components simply wear down. Gas hoses in particular can cause problems. “They’ll break down over time. We’ve replaced plenty of them where we found gas leaking around the fittings,” he says.

Another major risk with aging equipment relates to rust and corrosion. While cost-conscious operators may be tempted to keep using old and damaged equipment, these units pose a particular threat. “If you have a gas appliance and the burners are enclosed, when it has rusted panels with holes, you have the chance of a flame coming out of those holes and catching something on fire,” Sturgess says.

If a kitchen does suffer a fire, there is no quick and easy fix to get back up and running, Sturgess says, especially if the hood’s fire suppression system was activated. In such a situation, the operator must make sure to clean, restart, and thoroughly check each surviving piece of equipment for proper operation. It’ essentially like having an entire kitchen reinstalled — all on the operator’s dime.

Naturally, every operator wants to avoid that problem. While there’s never a guarantee against a fire, operators can take plenty of steps to limit their risk, from cleaning to starting a planned maintenance program. Not only will this reduce the chance of a fire, it will improve the performance and reliability of their equipment in general, says Sturgess. “I try to tell the owner/operators that if they take care of the stuff upfront, they’re not going to see me as often.”