What’s Cooking?  Some Science Behind Oil Fires in the Kitchen

By Carol Chavez, Business Manager & Development Lead.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sites cooking fires as the number one cause of home fires and injuries. At the top of that list, you will find unattended cooking as the leading cause. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission published a study finding that 75% of range or stove fires started with food ignitions. Of those, 43% started with cooking oil. Of all the people injured in non-fatal home cooking fires from 2005 – 2009, 58% were injured when they attempted to fight the fire themselves.

The NFPA has completed extensive testing on cooking oil fires using soybean (vegetable), corn, canola and peanut oil as well as beef shortening and pork lard. For more details on that testing, click here. The smoke point of an oil refers to the temperature at which the oil starts to decompose and give off visible fumes. The unpleasant odor that accompanies that breakdown is called acreolein. Since the normal deep frying temperature is 190 degrees C, using an oil with a smoke point greater than 190 degrees C will maximize the number of times the oil can be reused for cooking/frying.

The flash point of oil is about 320 degrees C, at 400 degrees C oil is heated to its fire point. At flash point you will notice tiny wisps of fire begin to leap from the surface of the pan, at fire point you will see the surface ablaze.

It is important to remember that you never want to use water in an attempt to extinguish an oil fire. The water will splatter the oil and spread the fire more quickly. Smothering the flames or using a fire extinguisher specifically formulated for oil fires are correct ways to attempt to control oil fires.

AEI Corporation’s trained professionals will be conducting a live burn on June 27, 2014 to collect scientific data about these types of fires in a simulated kitchen setting, as well as to demonstrate to attendees the behavior of this type of fire. There really is no better teacher than seeing fire first-hand.


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