Why Restaurant Owners Should Prioritize Improving Air Quality in 2023
In recent years, air quality has become a more pressing health issue around the globe. Of course, the topic was at the forefront of many people’s minds during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet even as our pandemic concerns have waned, the conversation about the air we breathe and its connection to our health has continued.
Though the pandemic served as a catalyst for air quality discussions, COVID is only one of countless ways air quality impacts people’s health. That’s why, just as we have strict regulations around the cleanliness of drinking water, there is a growing movement for similar regulation of air.
As Lidia Morawska, a physicist and an aerosol expert, put it:
“There was no clean water [standard] before a 19th-century movement started. People accepted that water could be contaminated, or they could get sick drinking water. So there was a paradigm shift. This is the same thinking: We don’t have to accept that we get sick due to respiratory [viruses that spread easily in poorly ventilated indoor air]. We should do something about it.”
Bad air can make people sick, whether through airborne illnesses like flus and colds, or through toxic gases inhaled over long periods of time. Businesses like restaurants, fitness centers, and day cares are now under increasing scrutiny to ensure their indoor facilities have clean air. Restaurants are particularly vulnerable to air quality issues, because cooking releases smoke, grease, and other fumes into the air—and because their locations often include small indoor rooms that can be packed with people during busy hours.
Widespread regulation of indoor air quality hasn’t arrived, but there are still a few small ways restaurants can make a huge impact on the air. Doing so has a direct benefit to customers, employees, business, and even the planet.
Restaurants are sources of unhealthy fumes. That’s simply a reality of commercial cooking, as chefs must continuously burn oil at high heats, typically work with gas ovens, among other factors. Studies have shown this can have a longterm negative impact on the health of employees, as they inhale smoke, grease, and gas into their lungs. It can also have a more immediate impact on employees—and even customers—who are sensitive to these pollutants due to respiratory conditions such as asthma.
But these fumes don’t have to cause a dire situation, as there’s a fairly simple solution to improve employee wellbeing and to foster a comfortable environment for all customers. Restaurants simply have to improve ventilation.
Ideally, all restaurants should get regular maintenance done on their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units. These machines help control the climate of a building like a restaurant—and not just temperature. They are also critical for air quality, as they help remove contaminated air from inside the building and pull fresh outdoor air inside.
However, simply having an HVAC in use does not ensure ventilation. An outdated, dirty, or clogged unit won’t do its job well and can even have an adverse effect on air quality. Most HVAC units only have a lifespan of ten to fifteen years, but many restaurants are using machinery far past its prime, and they’re not investing in the regular maintenance and cleaning needed for optimal ventilation.
It is essential to have your HVAC in prime condition for the health and safety of your restaurant. It has other positive benefits as well. Some studies have shown that cleaning air and improving ventilation of a workplace actually boosts employee productivity.
A high percentage of restaurants need some form of HVAC upgrade, whether tune-ups or full on unit replacements, but many owners avoid regular maintenance and replacements because they want to avoid the expenses they incur. Yet, neglecting your HVAC unit will cost you a lot more in the long run.
Another issue that impacts the air quality in restaurants is gas stoves and ovens. Many locations still use this type of unit for cooking, but there’s a lot of research that shows gas-powered stoves and ovens can be hazardous to health. Burning gas releases substances that can irritate lungs, and exposure has been connected to health issues like asthma. In fact, a recent bombshell study showed 1 in 8 cases if childhood asthma can be linked to the indoor pollution caused by gas stoves and ovens.
Also, because they are powered by greenhouse gases, they have a negative effect on the environment. That’s why there’s an increasing push to move away from gas-powered cooking units in favor of induction ovens. The U.S. federal government even recently considered a ban on gas ovens—a move that was controversial, but showed just how important indoor air quality has become in recent years.
This issue has a huge impact on restaurants. Historically, chefs have preferred cooking with gas, but as we learn about its impacts on air quality, there is a growing movement in the restaurant industry to embrace electric. Though nationwide mandates against gas have been ruled out for now, restaurants that want to improve their air quality and reduce their negative impact on climate change can swap out their gas stoves for the healthier, more eco-friendly alternatives.
Like food and water, air is essential for survival. So just as we expect the food and water we consume to be clean and healthy, we need to ensure our air is as well. For restaurants, improving air quality can directly improve the atmosphere for employees and customers, and have a positive impact on their health and comfort.
The fastest and simplest first step to take is to upgrade your HVAC units to get the best possible ventilation and help pump fresh air into kitchens and dining rooms. Want to learn more about how you can get new premium HVAC equipment—with none of the upfront costs? Contact Budderfly today and chat with one of our restaurant HVAC experts.