Risk Management

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:

  • Oriental cooking creates a very sticky, syrup-like grease that can become very adhesive to metal surfaces. The surface tension cannot be broken by normal scraping or with general purpose cleaning chemicals.
  • Solid fuel cooked/charbroiled meats create large quantities of grease. A first layer of grease will bond to metal surfaces, and then additional layers of thick, heavy black carbon will build-up created by ash and grease from the cooking process.
  • Deep-frying creates a grease similar to translucent creosote.
  • Frozen foods containing large quantities of water create a hard shiny layer of grease.


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

  • Safe cooking with oils and fats is usually at temperatures below 200°C.
  • Flammable vapours are given off at 200 to 300°C, and spontaneous ignition occurs at 310-360°C. There is only a short transition time from safe to dangerous conditions.
  • The flashpoint of cooking oil is reduced by progressive oxidation through repeated use.
  • Deposits of some mixtures, such as chicken fat and vegetable oil, are particularly easy to ignite.


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

  • Flames, sparks or hot gases from cooking can ignite combustible deposits inside extract ducts
  • Superheated oils leading to spontaneous ignition
  • Fan-motor failure or overheating caused by hardened grease, when restarting in seasonal catering establishments or non-24 hour operations
  • Working thermostats not working correctly, and the absence of a second
  • high level safety thermostat
  • Individual equipment not switched off, especially on cessation of business
  • Metal extract ducts are good conductors of heat and can ignite nearby building materials or litter
  • Catalytic converters decompose grease, but operating at 1000 °C are a potential source of ignition
  • Solid fuel cooking equipment (such as barbecues)
  • Tandoori ovens without igniters/pilot lights lit by burning pieces of paper/absence of flame failure or safety shut off device
  • Gas torches used to brown some dishes
  • Cooking equipment which is left unattended during operation.


Additional risk factors

  • Lack of a competent person on site
  • Human error
  • Faulty or non-tested electrical appliances
  • Design aspects of the extract ventilation, such as length of ducts, length of horizontal ducts, type of fan, type and number of duct access panels
  • Cleaning contracts may only cover hoods and easily accessible visible areas e.g. those areas inside the ducting which are only within arm’s reach
  • Combustible food debris trapped in the grease filter
  • Remnants of paper napkins and other combustible waste oddments which may have been inadvertently left in cooker hoods or inside the extraction ducting etc
  • Level of competence of cleaning contractor
  • Poor siting or failure of fire suppression system
  • Extract ducts are often completely inaccessible e.g. some duct systems may be routed inside masonry chimney breasts in older buildings
  • Unsuitable ductwork for kitchen environment
  • Lack of knowledge about the extract ventilation
  • Poor cleaning maintenance practice may compromise fire protection cladding or fire rated access panels on ducts
  • Insufficient number of access doors in ductwork to enable effective inspection and cleaning.

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 heavily used kitchens an automatic fire suppression system should be installed to protect the cooking equipment, particularly deep fat fryers and flame grills, extractor hood and preferably the ductwork, with this being interfaced to isolate the gas and electrical supplies to the cooking equipment upon detection of a fire. In selecting a suitable kitchen fire suppression system, the product should be certified to Australian standards for Approval of Fixed Fire Extinguishing Systems for Catering Equipment.
  • A class F wet chemical extinguisher specifically designed for tackling fires involving hot cooking oil or an AFFF appliance should additionally be provided in kitchens, to enable staff to extinguish a fire involving a fryer or flame grill in a safe and effective manner. Carbon dioxide and dry powder appliances are not considered suitable for this purpose. Certainly not Water!
  • Staff should be trained how to react to an emergency.

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

  • Where separate electrical switches are provided for cooking equipment and/or extractor fans, they should be located in an accessible and safe position, and clearly labelled.
  • In addition to thermostat controls, deep fat fryers should be equipped with separate high temperature limit controls, of the non-self-resetting type, to shut off the heat source should the thermostat fail to operate.
  • Gas salamander grills should be sited directly beneath the extract hood.
    • Where they are electric and used for cooking fatty foods such as burgers, bacon, sausages and the like. They should also be located under the hood, especially where they are of the older enclosed type.
    • However, where an electric salamander is sited outside the canopy it must not be located in close proximity to the ceiling or light fittings, and a minimum clearance of 500mm shall be maintained between them.
    • Where this is not possible the salamander shall be repositioned. In view of the significant fire hazard presented by gas salamanders, it is strongly recommended they be protected by an automatic fire suppression system.
  • Cooking equipment, especially deep fat fryers, should be operated and maintained in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions.
  • Cooking equipment, particularly deep fat fryers, should never be left on unattended, although it may be possible to do so for short periods providing the lids are replaced and the temperature controls turned to the lowest setting. This practice is not recommended, however, and should not be allowed under any circumstances for flame grills

Housekeeping & Maintenance

  • All portable electrical appliances in use within kitchens should be inspected, tested and tagged on an annual basis by a competent person.
  • At the cessation of the working day all cooking equipment should be turned off and, if possible, isolated. The lids to the deep fat fryers should be replaced.
  • Kitchen staff should be adequately trained to deal with a fire or other emergency occurring therein, with this being repeated at six monthly intervals.
  • Housekeeping and cleanliness should be of the highest order in kitchens with waste food and waste/used packaging materials removed at regular intervals to lidded metal containers sited in the open, a safe distance from the building.
  • Smoking should not be permitted in or close to this area.
  • Waste cooking oils should be stored outside of the kitchen in a designated area in the open preferably, which if accessible to the public should be secure. The waste oil should be held in suitable secure containers and removed promptly.


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.

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