Kitchen Ventilation Safety Tips

8 Questions Lead to a Safer System

If your church or school has a kitchen, you have the ingredients for a fire. Regardless of kitchen type—commercial, residential, or combination—built-up grease, poor kitchen design, or inadequate education can all lead to a disaster. 

Stephen Yeckley, senior risk control specialist for Brotherhood Mutual, says that the company commonly encounters residential and combination kitchens in the churches and related ministries we insure. “Residential and combination kitchens generally are run by administration staff or volunteers. Their experience may be limited to that of a home cook, and not of someone trained to navigate safety measures necessary in a commercial kitchen.” 

Prevention is a cost-effective investment

Prevention and equipment maintenance are always good investments. Not only does maintenance increase appliance usefulness, it can stave off losses caused by property damage and injury. Yeckley says that fires in kitchen ventilation systems are common occurrences when not properly maintained. He offers the following eight questions that every ministry should ask themselves about hazards hiding in their kitchen facility:

  1. Does your cooking area have an exhaust fan protected from grease and cooking vapors?An exposed exhaust fan or a fan in a hood without a filtering system is vulnerable to clinging splatters and vapors that collect dust on the fan. This dust could ignite if the fan gets hot enough. If it is not possible to protect the fan motor, set up a well-followed maintenance schedule to check and degrease the fan annually.

  2. Are your ducts professionally cleaned? A kitchen duct is connected to the exhaust hood/fan and vents vapors to the outside. Grease can build up inside the duct, so the interior should be checked periodically for a greasy film. If a fire gets up into the duct, a lot of damage could occur. Duct interiors are hard to clean—the work should be done by a professional. 


    Common types of kitchens in ministries include: 

    • Commercial—a kitchen designed for food production and storage. These types of kitchens often are regulated by local and state regulation and using them may require licensing or permits.

    • Residential—a kitchen in a private home. These types of kitchens generally are not suited to wholesale or retail cooking.

    • Combination or semi-commercial—generally, a kitchen with residential counters and cabinets, but with commercial warming, cooking, and cooling equipment. 

  3. How often do you clean your collector panels? If there is a commercial hood with grease-collector panels, the panels will eventually develop a coating of greasy grime as a result of the normal cooking process. The panels should be removed and thoroughly degreased at least annually (under moderate use) and more often (under heavier use).

  4. Deep fryer = Deep trouble? Isolate deep fryers away from open-flame cooking appliances, if possible. If you must place a fryer next to a gas range or an open-flame grill, install a physical baffle between them to block spatter. Either way, deep fryers always should be located under the exhaust hood and the hood should be equipped with an automatic fire-extinguishing system. 

  5. Do you have a properly rated fire extinguisher? A K-type portable fire extinguisher (kitchen) should be provided in all kitchens that are not equipped with an automatic fire-extinguishing system, especially ones with commercial cooking equipment. These extinguishers should be mounted near to the cooking area. If you have a fire suppression system above a commercial stove, make sure the caps that protect the nozzles are installed correctly. Uncovered nozzles can accumulate grease, possibly preventing proper function in the event of a fire.

  6. Where is your gas shut-off valve? A manual valve to shut-off gas flow to cooking appliances should always be located in the kitchen and should be accessible at all times. All users should know where it is and how to use it.  

  7. Are all electrical outlets wired with GFCI? Lack of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are a reality for kitchens inside older churches and other buildings. Any electrical outlets in proximity to a kitchen sink or other wet area should have ground fault protection, either at the outlet or at the breaker panel.   

  8. Do you cultivate cleanliness and order? Clutter is the enemy of any kitchen. Keep the cooking area, appliances, and surfaces clean from normal dirt, grime, and grease. Trash and other flammable materials should be kept well away from cooking surfaces.  

Note: An automatic fire-extinguishing system in the cooking exhaust hood needs to be inspected and serviced annually or as often as your local regulations require.

Need help?

Ask your local fire marshal to drop by for a visit. He or she can inspect your facilities for free and offer guidance on improvements.

Brotherhood Mutual’s Risk Control department can help answer your questions about kitchen ventilations systems. You can contact them at 800-333-3735 or