Best Ways to Keep a Restaurant Kitchen Cool
Restaurant kitchens are notorious heat traps -- especially in cooking areas, where temperatures in front of a busy grill can top 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to combat sweltering heat is a combination of ventilation, circulation and hydration. An efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning system provides a foundation. Supplement vital HVAC arteries using general ventilation, spot cooling with small fans or evaporative cooling, reducing strain on employees as well as refrigeration systems.
Exhaust hoods capture and filter out heat, fumes, smoke and particulates, making it easier for air conditioners to perform at optimum level. Ventilation systems amount to about 28 percent of your overall energy costs and are subject to health department inspections, so it pays to obtain professional advice on installing a new or retrofitted system. Consider side panels to reduce cross drafts and variable speed ventilation fans that power down during less busy times.
Your HVAC system functions best when it’s clean; this keeps you cool as well as compliant with health department and fire safety regulations. Check regularly for grease, dust and other build-up throughout the entire system and perform maintenance, such as replacing filters and vacuuming ducts, as needed. Ask employees to report any unusual room-temperature changes, which may be the first sign of a developing problem.
Air that goes out kitchen exhaust vents is replaced with a mix of make-up air from a variety of sources, including the dining room, a rooftop intake unit or open doors or windows that are properly screened to prevent insects and other pests from invading food preparation areas. To reduce heat, shade or shutter kitchen windows that are exposed to full sun. Open in the cool of the morning or later in the evening to let in fresh air.
Experiment with placement to find the sweet spot for best circulation. Auxiliary fans shouldn’t interfere with exhaust fans. Aim fans away from pick-up areas for hot food and prep areas where blowing air could scatter lighter items. Try one fan on the floor with another placed on a sturdy surface overhead, such as the top of a refrigerator. Window fans faced out to clear hot air or faced in to stream a cool breeze can also be useful -- but keep blades, boxes and fan guards dust-free.
The debut of evaporative cooling is credited to Arizona desert dwellers who in the 1920s hung water-soaked sheets in front of their electric fans. The concept of blowing dry air over wet fabric evolved into “swamp coolers,” available in all sizes from window-mounted to rooftop units. They don't work in high humidity and require an outside air source, such as an open window. On the upside, they use four times less electricity than air conditioners and circulate fresh rather than recycled air.
Monitor thermometers placed around the kitchen in food preparation and pick-up areas. Educate staff about the signs of heat-related illness, including headache, dizziness and nausea, and how to prevent it. Encourage workers to drink plenty of water rather than dehydrating caffeine beverages and to take breaks in a shaded, cool area. A couple of minutes in the walk-in cooler can revive a wilting worker. Schedule deliveries for mornings, prior to the heat of the day.