Don’t feel the burn!

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Eliminating hot oil burns is achievable with good technique and modern fryer filtration equipment.

When managed poorly, hot oil used to cook food can be hazardous. Accident reports posted on OSHA's website describe a restaurant employee suffering significant burns after tripping into a bucket of hot oil left in a walkway, and another who slipped on spilled oil and plunged his hands and arms into hot oil while trying to break his fall.

Frying oil needn’t even be hot to inflict injury. OSHA reports that many restaurant workers' compensation incidents occur when employees strain their backs while carrying heavy loads of oil.

Such injuries are uncommonly severe, but restaurant workers still suffer numerous small hot oil burns daily when, according to experts, it shouldn’t happen if proper handling technique is taught, practiced and enforced.

Teach your workers well

That’s essential to do with budding chefs, says Katie Payne, a chef instructor at Sullivan University National Center for Hospitality Studies in Louisville, Kentucky. A fryer full of hot oil can intimidate new recruits unsure of how to add food safely to the fryer. She says it can be especially unsettling when following good technique requires getting one’s hands close to the hot oil.

Though it sounds counterintuitive, “Getting your hands near the oil is usually the safest way to put food into the fryer,” Payne says. For example, the proper technique for frying battered fish is to lower it into the oil slowly, hold it briefly and then swirl it gently once or twice to help the batter set. Done properly, the fillet will float rather than fall to the bottom of the fry basket where it can stick to the metal grate. “If somebody’s intimidated, that’s how you end up with the ‘flinging’ technique, or someone just dropping it straight into the hot oil and getting splashed.”

Payne allows inexperienced students to use tongs to add food to the fryer, but she encourages them to use their hands once they gain experience. “Tongs do provide a little space between your flesh and the oil, but most, once they understand how to handle it, use their hands.”

Don't 'fling' food

The “flinging” technique is also common when shallow-frying or sautéing. Food hurriedly dropped into a pan splashes oil and breading in multiple directions, including on bare arms and hands. Avoiding that is simple, Payne says. “Always put food into the pan slowly and in a direction which moves the food away from you,” she says. “That way, if there’s any splashed oil, it’s headed away from you, not onto you.”

Tips on Fryer Safety/Oil Preservation

  • Never change or filter hot oil; change only after it’s cooled.
  • Never deep clean a fryer manually without letting it cool overnight.
  • When not using fryers, turn off the heat to extend oil life.
  • During slow periods, lower fryer temperatures.
  • Keep fryers covered during downtimes. Direct contact with makeup air or foreign objects reduces oil life.
  • Never perform tasks above heated oil, such as hood vent cleaning.
  • Consider using a closed-loop empty-and-refill system.

Twice- Fried

Clean oil is so important at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine, that all seafood is twice-fried: first in a fryer well containing the oldest oil, and second in a well of fresh oil. The first fry, which lasts about 30 to 60 seconds, sets the crust on the seafood being cooked, says owner Michael Landgarten The second fry, lasting until the product is cooked, yields a super-clean appearance and non-greasy texture.

“The second fryer stays cleaner for much longer because the fish has already lost any excess flour that falls off and burns in the fryer with the oldest oil,” Landgarten says. “Once it’s cooked, we put the fish into a long cardboard box lined with paper towels. If that paper gets oily quickly, that’s just one indicator that the oil is no good anymore.”

Fried Food Cleanliness

  • Using a fryer basket or vegetable basket, shake off all excess breading before adding food to oil.
  • Lower battered food into the fryer slowly and stir gently to set the batter.
  • Skim the surface of the oil constantly to remove excess fried bits.
  • Old oil will add a brown tinge to fried foods; that’s usually a sign that it needs to be changed.

Fryer Maintenance

Lou Meyer, vice president of operations for The Briad Group, a large Wendy’s franchisee, employs a closed loop fryer maintenance system which pumps used oil out to one tank, and new oil back into the fryers from a fresh tank. Both tanks are filled and emptied by professionals who never enter the restaurant.

“There’s no more using kids to move boxes of oil weighing 30 pounds, or pouring oil out of cans you have to scrape out — like I did in the old days,” Meyer says. “This is a closed system that works great. No more taking a hot pot of oil outside and pouring that off. Talk about a mess.”