Managing Risks of Deep Fat Fryers

Each year a large number of fires occur in commercial kitchens, many of which result in extensive damage to property and business interruption to the income.  It may also cause injury or loss of life.

Managing these risks are crucial whether you are insured or not. Not only can you destroy your business, but the landlord’s building if leasing or neighbouring buildings causing you to be liable if you have not taken responsibility for making your kitchen safe.

Ultimate protection comes from being insured for Fire, Business Interruption and Public/Products Liability. But premiums vary according to how the risk is presented.

As a result, Insurers are extremely fussy about these types of risks, whether they will accept them or not depends on the following:

·         Type of Building, its age and construction

·         Type of cooking equipment that is being used

·         Fire Prevention and Housekeeping

Insurers Requirements

What Causes Deep Fat Fryers to Ignite?

There are three primary reasons for ignition:

1.    Poor Mechanical Maintenance

Open fryers are particularly susceptible to poor mechanical maintenance.  Normal cooking temperature for deep fryer vegetable oil is about 190ºC.  Thermostat malfunction is a primary cause for deep fryer fires in restaurants. If a thermostat malfunctions, cooking temperatures can rise. At 220ºC oil starts to smoke.  Smoke production will increase as the temperature rises.  Auto ignition takes place at approximately 270º to 420ºC, depending on the type of oil, the amount of impurities in it and usage.  New “high-temperature” fryers are designed to maintain the heat of the oil longer and cook at higher temperatures (much closer to auto-ignition), making these units a more significant fire risk.  Those using new “high-temp” fryers should upgrade their fire-extinguishing systems.

2.    Flue Grease Buildup

In nearly all fryer designs, the flue gas exhaust vent for the heat from the burner elements (whether gas or electric) goes up the back of the unit behind the vat.  With repeated splashing a substantial coating of grease can build up and harden on top of and around this exhaust stack (like creosote in a wood burning chimney).  This residue provides an excellent fuel source especially if some of the buildup falls close to the burner elements below.  Most new fryers are constructed with the chimney open at the bottom, so any debris that falls down the gas flue chimney should fall straight to the floor.

3.    Inadequate Clearances to Combustibles

It is vital a clearance of at least 410 mm exists between fryers and any open flame burners.  A 200 mm metal or tempered glass panel can be used to achieve this clearance. If this clearance is not met, open flames have the potential to ignite the cooking oil.


Adding to the risk?

The Canopy and Ventilation extraction systems now demanded in all commercial grade kitchens still continue to have a fire risk caused by an excessive build-up of cooking oil deposits. A good quality maintenance process and housekeeping is vital.

Then this is affected by different cooking styles which will create different grease residues:


The type of cooking oil or fat carries the following risks:


There is a need to identify the risks of Ignition

All cooking equipment represents a potential source of ignition and will vary with each type. Such equipment includes gas-fired equipment with an immediate source of flame, deep fat frying apparatus, as well as various electric equipment such as toasters, fryers and griddles.


Trigger points can be in a number of forms including:

• Oil/fat and food products

• Combustible materials adjacent to exhaust ducts

• The power supply to the apparatus e.g. gas supply.

Air is supplied in large quantities by the inlets of the ventilation system, and the extract ducts act as chimneys, increasing the intensity of the fire.

The primary risks of fire in a kitchen


Additional risk factors

What makes a good risk or a bad risk?

The obvious uninsurable risk therefore is a gas driven deep fat fryer with no Canopy and Flu removing the heat in a wooden building. From there a minimum requirement will be a commercial grade Canopy and extraction system made of stainless steel with filters trapping the main deposits of fat lifted by the heat produced by the cooking areas. These need to have the filters either exchanged or thoroughly cleaned either fortnightly or monthly depending on the type of cooking involved. With large deep fryers or heavy use of Woks, definitely this should be fortnightly. With equipment such as grills and hotplates can be stretched to monthly.

The flues themselves should be steam cleaned either six monthly for heavy fat cooking to every twelve months.

Daily cleaning of all the kitchen areas used should also be normal housekeeping activities. Also the appointment of a competent person is vital able to perform the task or assume responsibility or is authorised to carry out these tasks. They should be someone who has had theoretical and practical training along with practical experience.

Staff knowledge and training is important so that your staff understand the systems and processes they are working with. This should be the responsibility of all staff.

The best risk is in a modern brick or concrete building with good housekeeping as above and the following equipment and practices will make your risk more attractive to insurers and keep premiums low.

Fire Suppression systems

In the absence of an automatic fire suppression system fire rated ductwork designed to maintain stability and integrity for up to 4 hours, should be provided in heavily used kitchens, to prevent a fire reaching the ductwork breaking out into roof cavities or other compartments.

Cooking Equipment

Housekeeping & Maintenance


In Conclusion

The equipment, fire prevention and housekeeping and maintenance practices should not be taken lightly. Managing these risks are essential to reduce the chance of a loss and an interruption not just to your business, but also your neighbours. Insurance is a great way to transfer the risk away, but factors affecting the premiums are based on the probability of a loss and the more we can seek to reduce the chance of a loss, the cheaper the premiums for all the good risks. Prevention is better than cure and this can start with selecting an appropriate building to carry out such activities, selecting the best available equipment, setting it up safely and then follow a high standard housekeeping culture within the business from a competent person. It will be a win win situation for all.