New cooking methods demand better safety measures

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an average of 5,900 restaurant fires occur each year. With cooking identified as the cause of more than half of those fires, much of the damage can be minimized by ensuring restaurant fire suppression systems comply with the UL 300 standard. As more restaurant owners consider upgrading their fire suppression systems, there are several reasons to comply with UL 300.

Arguably, the most important reason to follow UL 300 is to ensure customers and employees are protected. Proper compliance with UL 300 and other commercial kitchen fire codes is helping restaurants achieve safer environments. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that between 2000 and 2004, three deaths and 113 injuries were reported from commercial kitchen fires, and between 2007 and 2009, zero deaths were reported and only 73 injuries.

Although safety is a primary motivation for restaurant owners and operators to comply with UL 300, there are several other reasons to invest in compliance. To understand why UL 300 is so important, owners should learn the standard and know why it was established for the restaurant industry.

What is UL 300?

In November 1994, Underwriters Laboratories, a safety consulting and certification company, introduced the UL 300 Standard for Testing of Fire Extinguishing Systems for the Protection of Restaurant Cooking Surfaces. UL 300 was established in response to changes in cooking styles, processes, and equipment present in modern commercial kitchens. Restaurant fires were becoming increasingly difficult to suppress and contain due to these changes, and the creation of UL 300 addressed these issues.

For example, before 1994, commercial cooking involved primarily animal fat. In an effort to lower the fat and cholesterol content of food, restaurants began switching to vegetable oils. Vegetable oils burn at higher temperatures, however, making fires more difficult to suppress. Additionally, modern and high-efficiency cooking appliances also add to the challenge of total fire protection because they are well-insulated and slow to cool. Dry chemical systems that worked well on these appliances in the past are no longer capable of suppressing and sustaining an extinguished fire. UL 300 systems require wet chemical agents to suppress the fire, similar to how dry chemical systems worked. They also cool materials so they don’t reignite, which dry chemical agents cannot do.

Today, most states mandate that newly installed restaurant fire suppression systems are UL 300-compliant; however, there is inconsistency in enforcement when it comes to existing installations. Six states require UL 300-compliant fire suppression systems in all restaurants by a designated date. A majority of the country—35 states—require replacement of non-UL 300 systems when the cooking equipment is changed, repositioned, or replaced, or if the existing system can’t be maintained. Nine states have no statewide mandate, leaving compliance to be managed at a local level by the jurisdiction with proper authority.

In the absence of consistent mandates, restaurant owners often decide not to upgrade their fire suppression systems to be UL 300-compliant based on the perceived cost of doing so. In the restaurant industry, where profit margins are already thin, every dollar makes a difference. By not upgrading systems to be UL 300-listed, however, owners could face consequences—both financial and personal.

Upgrade your systems

Restaurant owners must make many choices daily that impact the bottom line. Maintaining and updating fire suppression systems for commercial kitchens is one of the most crucial decisions these business owners can make. Here are four reasons to upgrade fire suppression systems in your full service restaurant to meet the UL 300 standard:

  1. Protect people and property. Fire suppression systems are designed to minimize the impact of a kitchen fire by knocking the flames down quickly, containing a fire to prevent spreading, and lowering a blaze’s temperature to reduce potential for injury and the extent of damage. Today’s contemporary appliances and the use of vegetable oils and high-temperature materials combine to create a fire risk that didn’t previously exist. What does this mean for an owner whose kitchen is equipped with energy-efficient fryers using vegetable oil, but haven’t upgraded to a UL 300 system? In the event of a fryer fire in this kitchen, a typical fire suppression system is capable of delivering approximately one-sixth of what is needed to contain the event. If the fire gets out of control and causes extensive damage, there is an obvious negative impact on all parties involved, including employees, customers, and neighboring businesses.

  1. Protect your revenue stream. A UL 300 fire suppression system won’t prevent a restaurant kitchen fire, but will reduce the damage, which can have ripple effects far beyond the initial incident. Beyond the immediate loss of customer revenue, a long-term closure could impact monthly expenses that must be paid regardless of whether or not the restaurant is open for business. Customer loyalty, employee retention, and the reputation of your business can be compromised—especially significant considering the advent of social media and how quickly news spreads.

  1. Protect your ability to be in insured at a reasonable cost. Most standard-market insurance companies require full-service restaurants to have a UL 300 fire suppression system in place, regardless if local authorities require it. If restaurant owners are not UL 300-compliant, they may be denied a policy and be forced to obtain insurance from the Excess and Surplus (E&S) market, which identifies them as high-risk customers who fail to meet eligibility requirements. Premiums can be 30 to 300 percent higher for E&S market insurers than standard-market insurers.

  1. Protect yourself from losing everything through litigation. If a restaurant is destroyed as a result of a fire that could have been prevented by the installation of a UL 300 fire suppression system, the owners could lose insurance coverage, and even more devastating, the payout that they were most likely depending on.

To illustrate this point, a Massachusetts restaurant owner lost everything when his insurance policy was voided following a fire that could have been prevented. The owner ignored warnings from the Fire Suppression Systems Association (FSSA) for five years to switch his dry chemical system to a modern wet chemical system. During that time, this owner lost a previous insurance policy because no wet chemical system was installed, and was informed that the system would no longer be serviced or repaired by the manufacturer. Even with these events he knowingly didn’t comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes. A year later, the city building inspector advised that the red-tag status of the dry chemical system would cause denial of license renewal and the ability to operate because it failed to meet building code requirements. The same year that the city inspector issued this notice, a massive fire destroyed the restaurant. The fire suppression system failed to function properly, and as a result of the previous warnings, the insurance company declined to pay the claim. The court ruled that the restaurant’s failure to install and maintain a UL 300 wet chemical system justified the denial of coverage.

Four reasons make the case

A UL 300 fire suppression system can help minimize the impact of a fire, better protecting the lives of employees, guests, and the restaurant’s future. With life safety at the top of the priority list, these four reasons alone should be enough to motivate full-service restaurant owners to make the investment and upgrade their fire suppression systems now. There’s no better time than the present to reach out to your service provider or manufacturer to get an estimate and learn how an upgraded system would benefit your restaurant.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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