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Operators sniff out equipment solutions to eliminate odors

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz apparently has issues with potential food odors generated by the coffee chain’s new hot breakfast program, according to a recently published internal memo.

Odors that stray from a kitchen or prep area can diminish overall air quality and annoy customers both inside and outside a restaurant. The rise of mixed-use buildings—housing integrated with commercial uses—only increases concerns with foodservice-related odors.

One reason foodservice odor issues have emerged is that operators are trying to expand their menus by adding such equipment as panini grills, food finishers and speed ovens to front-of-the-house areas that are not properly ventilated.

Even when restaurants have properly installed ventilation, the exhaust fans from grease hoods often are poorly located and discharge air into the make-up or supply air intakes for that restaurant or neighboring buildings. Even when exhaust systems include environmental control systems designed to filter and capture smoke and odor, they often aren’t properly maintained and are unable to perform the intended task.

Other problems are caused by high humidity and standing water, common in kitchens and toilet rooms, which contribute to mold growth and create other lingering odors. However, odors from cleaning chemicals and bleaches used to control mold only add another smell that can overshadow all the pleasant aromas of your kitchen or bakery. In bar areas, foul smells often linger from stale beer under hard-to-clean or poorly sealed equipment.

Sensitivity to odors varies widely. Your staff may not even sense what your customers smell. Fortunately, companies like Microanalytics have developed electronic devices and techniques that measure odors. These technologies hold the promise of accurate assessment when questions of odor severity are raised. In the future, measuring the degree of food odors may be as easy as using a digital thermometer.

Here are a few steps that can minimize common odor problems:

Provide some type of exhaust over all finishing, toasting and warming equipment, regardless of what is required by local code. Most of these applications don’t require a grease filter hood with a welded iron duct, just some means of capturing stale air.

If you need to heat food and can’t install a hood, purchase equipment with enclosed cavities, instead of open-heating surfaces. Use programmable controls to keep food from overcooking or burning if someone leaves the area.

If you use a panini grill or small pizza oven without a hood inside a kitchen, try to locate it as close as possible to the grease hood for your range or fryer.

Keep all of your cooking and warewash areas under negative pressure. That means exhausting more air than is introduced into the space. Air will move from the dining or patron area into the kitchen—not the other way around. If you can’t create negative pressure, use linear diffusers around the cooking area to create an air curtain that will keep air from moving back into the dining room.

Seal all bar equipment to the die wall and provide full access under the sinks and mix stations for daily cleaning. Pay special attention to sealing areas around and below beer towers and drainers.

Provide 35-degree to 40-degree Fahrenheit refrigeration for waste from citrus, seafood, shellfish and other food items that deteriorate in less than 24 hours. It’s a good use for that old backbar cooler or undercounter refrigerator. For backup, install ozone generators for further odor control at loading docks and trash-holding areas.

Install smoke- and odor-control systems in the ductwork before the hood discharge. These systems work best when the grease hood is self-cleaning or uses new ultraviolet technology to remove the grease from the air stream. Lab tests have shown that UV can reduce 50 percent of food odors from heavy cooking, charbroiling or wok-cooking. Once most of the grease is removed, run the air through odor mitigation filter media made from carbon or potassium permanganate. This last step is expensive but provides effective odor control.

All of these solutions effectively control odors, but the simplest solution often is the easiest: Maintain constant air circulation throughout all of your spaces.

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