On the evening of March 31, 1999, a police officer noticed flames shooting into the air above a four-story rooftop several blocks away. The roof belonged to the Tropicana Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the flames were erupting from its restaurant exhaust fan. Fortunately no one was seriously injured, but the fire caused over $350,000 in damage and several weeks of down-time while extensive repairs were made to the building. The causes? An unattended cooking appliance, heavy grease accumulation in the exhaust duct, and the use of improper filters in the restaurant hood. (Click to read the full case study in Fire Engineering Magazine)
Incidents like this occur regularly to this day—in fact, 7,640 of them occur annually according to the National Fire Protection Association.Those fires in eating and drinking establishments result in an annual average of 2 deaths, 115 injuries, and over $245 million in total property loss. Naturally, the majority of these fires start in cooking equipment and grease-coated exhaust hoods and ducts. While safety measures like fire suppression systems and fire extinguishers are required by code, grease accumulation can substantially hamper the effectiveness of these devices. In the case of the Tropicana Casino, the fire spread so quickly through accumulated grease in the exhaust duct that the flames passed by the heat detectors of the kitchen fire system without setting it off.
These facts lead commercial kitchen operators to participate in an unending battle against grease accumulation in their exhaust systems. Commercial hood cleaners are the ones on the front lines of that battle, working odd hours, wearing stifling protective gear, handling caustic chemicals, and scaling grease-coated rooftops in all kinds of weather. The cleaners are a tough breed who take pride in their work, but they realize it’s only a temporary fix. As soon as cooking begins again, grease will begin accumulating in the hood until it is removed.“Every hood is a time bomb,” Allen Walker explains colorfully. The hood cleaning manager at ABCO Fire Protection, Allen doesn’t sugarcoat the threat grease poses to commercial kitchens. “When we perform a hood and duct cleaning we reset the timer, and if we don’t reset it, it’s not a question of if but when it’s going to go off.”
Seeing hood cleaners do their job results in the same sentiment by many: there’s got to be a better way. When the environmental impact of hood cleaning is taken into account, many realize there needs to be a better way.The average restaurant hood cleaning service uses approximately 15 gallons of de-greasing chemical and several hundred gallons of water. In some cities the resulting slurry of chemicals, grease, and water is allowed to be disposed of directly into sanitary sewers. In other areas it must first be collected and treated with an agent to neutralize its pH before being disposed of. In any case, hood cleaning is a labor- and resource-intensive process that does nothing to prevent grease from accumulating in hoods and ducts as soon as cooking starts again.
The ideal solution to the problems associated with kitchen hood cleaning would be a method to extract the grease from cooking exhaust before it ever enters the actual exhaust system—and the folks at Shepherd Filters are working on it. In its current form, their woolen filter product prevents up to 98% of grease-laden vapors from ever entering a restaurant exhaust system. Small amounts of grease can still get through, so the hood will still need to be cleaned occasionally. However, a simple inspection is often all that is required to remain compliant with NFPA codes.
Shepherd Filters has also kept sustainability in mind in the development of their product. Their filters are made of 100% wool, which is both biodegradable and naturally flame-retardant. The baffles that hold the woolen sheets in place are made of high quality stainless steel, allowing them to withstand years of use without needing to be replaced. Sustainable wool also helps the product fit within the tight profit margins of the restaurant business—each filter sheet only costs a few cents. ABCO’s real-world trials with the product have provided restaurant owners with substantial savings versus the cost of regular kitchen exhaust cleaning.
While restaurants fires are still a daily occurrence, innovation promises a future brightened by safer, greener, and more efficient commercial kitchens. At the forefront of this progress are Shepherd Filters, offering a realistic alternative to the traditional cycle of grease accumulation and hood cleaning. This product puts commercial kitchen fire safety in the hands of the kitchen operator, and the result is a safer facility, more economical operation, and reduced environmental impact.
As part of our commitment to delivering the best fire protection solutions the industry has to offer, ABCO Fire has recently begun distributing Shepherd Filters. After several case studies with some of our trusted long-term restaurant customers, we are now proud to make this product available to commercial kitchens across the United States. Visit our Shepherd Filters landing page to learn more, and contact us when you’re ready to put them to work in your kitchen.