Deep Fryer Fires due to Lack of Maintenance

We recently investigated the cause of a deep fryer fire in a restaurant setting.  As you probably know, these appliances are everywhere, not just in commercial food establishments, but in homes as well.  They have been in use for a number of years and are tried and tested dependable pieces of equipment.  However, there is just one problem which seems to be constantly ignored by owners.  That is, a thorough cleaning!  It’s one thing to clean the surfaces that are easily reachable and say that the fryer is clean.  It’s quite another to clean the areas where grease accumulates and is ignored because these areas are hard to get into.  I’m talking about the places around the burners and controls.  I’m talking about the area where the gas line comes in and the connections are made.  Many people are afraid to get into the cabinet where the guts of the fryer (and stoves and grilles) are located.  And if you don’t know what you are doing, you’re probably better off leaving the cleaning to a professional.  That doesn’t mean that the cleaning should be put off until absolutely necessary, or as in this case, after a fire occurs.  Deep frying food causes cooking oil to splatter onto exterior surfaces.  Whether onto an exhaust hood or other appliances, the residue that accumulates becomes fuel for a potential fire.  In the recent case mentioned above, greasy residue was allowed to accumulate on the rear side of the fryer as well as the exhaust hood wall.  Greasy residue also accumulated inside the fryer’s exhaust duct enclosure and this was where the fire originated.  The fire started here because the heat from the exhaust was insulated by the greasy residue, raising the temperature of the exhaust gases to the ignition temperature of the residue.  As a reference, cooking oil ignites between 750 F and 800 F depending on the oil.  If the fire hadn’t been contained as quickly as it was, the fire would have eventually reached those grease laden areas behind the fryer and inside the control and burner area.  The fire would also have spread to the stove and grille which were also under the same exhaust hood as the fryer and in need of the same type of cleaning.  If you have to set aside a day to clean inside your cooking appliances – Do It! I promise you that the time and money you spend doing a little maintenance will be significantly less than spending days to clean up, if not rebuild, after a significant fire loss.  Just think about the lost revenue over one day as opposed to several weeks if not months.  Remember, you have control over your schedule and therefore you can plan for your downtime.  Your customers, employees and those close to you will all appreciate it.

To show you what I mean, the following photograph shows how dirty the burner and control area can get if not kept clean.

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This is the back of the fryer after it was removed from its place under the exhaust hood.  The burn pattern was created by the heat produced from burning on the inside the exhaust area of the fryer. The residue on the lower back was never touched and is therefore an example of how bad the accumulation can be if not cleaned regularly.

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The last photograph shows what the floor area looked like when the fryer was removed. The gas line, which is barely recognizable, was buried in the residue.

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About rjhillconsulting
R.J. Hill Consulting is a forensic consulting engineering firm that specializes in performing failure investigations for attorneys and insurance companies. Mr. R.J. Hill is a registered professional (mechanical) engineer with over 37 years of experience, 33 years in private practice. Please visit www.rjhill.com to see the kinds of forensic investigations that Mr. Hill performs.

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