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The Risk of Heat Stress in Restaurant Kitchens

Chef cooking with flame in a frying pan on a kitchen stove

A restaurant kitchen is a very fast-paced environment and it is a challenge to work safely while, at the same time, maintaining the quality of the food that is being prepared.  When the temperature inside a restaurant kitchen is elevated, it puts a strain on the workers and impacts the ability to maintain proper temperature control to prevent microbial growth on the food. 

It was therefore quite revealing when the Globe and Mail found that some kitchens in the GTA experienced temperatures greater than 50oC in 2016. Working in such a hot environment affects the ability of the body to cool itself. This causes one to be easily fatigued and affects the ability to concentrate; in turn, this can lead to accidents such as cutting or burning oneself1.

An elevated temperature in the kitchen is also problematic as it could lead to food products being in the "danger zone" (between 4oC to 60oC) as this facilitates the growth of microorganisms2. If this food is subsequently consumed, it could cause food-borne illness. Therefore, the objective of this pilot study is to quantify the environmental conditions in restaurant kitchens in the GTA and determine its impact on workers' health as well as the ability to maintain adequate temperature control on the food products.

This pilot study assessed seven kitchens in the GTA during the 2017 summer season to ascertain this risk. A heat stress monitor was used to collect wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) data and the results were compared to the threshold limits established by ACGIH. Overall, the mean kitchen WBGT did not exceed the corresponding TLV; however, three sites were above the action limit. Upon further review of the peak WBGT values recorded, if sustained, they would be considered excessive and controls would be required to reduce the risk of heat stress. An awareness guide and detailed results will be available soon.