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Kitchen Exhaust System Cleaning – Who Is Responsible?

In commercial, multi-use buildings, who is responsible for kitchen exhaust system cleaning? 

A trip to the mall can be fun and relaxing (and sometimes expensive!). And when strolling by the mall’s food court, it can be tough to resist the assortment of mouth-watering aromas from the Chinese restaurant, the pizza joint, and of course, the cookie bakery. But, what most mall patrons don’t ever think about is the work that goes into ensuring that all of those food establishments stay safe. In fact, there is an important, potentially life-threatening issue that many mixed-use building owners are overlooking.

Kitchen Cleaning Safety: Tenant’s Responsibility?

Kitchen Exhaust System Cleaning - Who Is ResponsibleFrom what I’ve witnessed in a lot of multi-use buildings such as malls or other mixed-use commercial buildings, the building owner (or lessor) often makes it the responsibility of the lessee to ensure their kitchen hood and exhaust systems are kept clean and compliant with health department and fire marshal standards–that they have their appropriate inspection sticker. I cannot believe the number of restaurant managers who have asked us to “skip the unseen portions” of the system because “no one will see it”. Our answer is always a big fat NO! This duct-cleaning process is a cost the building owner doesn’t want to shoulder (and I am not saying they should), so they make it the restaurant/lessee’s cost to bear. But in my opinion, many building owners and building managers are ignoring the long-term potential cost should a grease fire erupt in one of their tenant’s kitchens or exhaust systems. Do you really want to leave the tenants responsible for the well-being of your building and for the safety and lives of the people inside? The purpose of the ductwork within an exhaust system is to remove smoke and contain a potential fire. The ductwork must be well-sealed to do this job. If it leaks grease or it leaks water, it is going to leak fire…which means your building it going to go up in flames–fast. A grease fire inside a duct can reach 1800 degrees very quickly. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and thoroughly cleaning the exhaust system to the bare metal and removing the fuel for a potential fire is the only logical solution.

Taking the Reins for Safety

So since it is obviously in the best interest of the building owner to ensure a grease fire does not occur, risking irreparable damage and potential loss of life, it makes perfect sense that the owner should want to be 100% sure that their tenants’ exhaust systems are immaculately clean, and I believe that building owners should play a more active role in specifying the proper systems and ensuring the systems are being maintained and cleaned to the bare metal standard. The only process that should be allowed and accepted is a cleaning schedule specified by NFPA -96. I also believe that the cleaning should be verified by a picture program provided by each contractor to prove that the entire system is in fact “grease free”. If a fire were to occur at ABC Wok or XYZ Pizza in the mall food court or other commercial building, resulting in damage to the structure and other tenants’ property–or even in injury or death of tenants or patrons–the owner of the building (and their insurance company!) will most likely be the one stuck holding the bag. Malls and other multi-use property owners should take this to heart and consider a policy change.

Grease Fires: Preventing the Preventable

The team at Performance Industrial has a saying: Bare metal or nothing. Based on NFPA-96 standards, that policy of removing ALL grease and debris from commercial kitchens’ exhaust systems can ultimately save money and even lives by preventing a grease fire. Any commercial cleaning company that tells you that a part of your system is “inaccessible”, or that it’s “impossible to access” a certain area is wrong. Cleaning every inch of an exhaust system, from hood to vent, is required, and always entirely possible. It may cost more to do it right, but it’s the only way to get a sound, safe state of mind. Based on my experience, kitchen exhaust system maintenance and cleaning is too important to leave to tenants, and a fire would be far more expensive to the building owner than the cost of proper duct cleaning.You can’t afford to not make the right decision. As always, the more we can educate about the hazards of improper kitchen exhaust maintenance and cleaning, the safer we all are.

Karen Miller