Indoor air quality remains a concern for restaurateurs

Clearing The Air

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, foodservice operators rarely thought about indoor air quality as a serious health concern. To improve air quality in restaurants, the standard guidelines for hygiene and sanitation are no longer sufficient to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers. In addition to those response measures, commercial air purifiers have become must-have pieces of equipment.

While minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission was top of mind for operators during the peak of the pandemic, a better understanding of air quality and where supplementary issues are most likely to occur has been brought to the forefront.

Cause & Effect

Not surprisingly, a restaurant’s kitchen is the primary source of poor air quality as grills, ovens and stoves produce large amounts of smoke and grease and create harmful emissions. If the HVAC system is in bad condition, the restaurant won’t be able to effectively filter and improve the air quality. Additionally, poor air quality can lead to the growth of mold and mildew, causing food to become contaminated and spoil.

“In a professional kitchen, there are a lot of grease-laden vapours generated by the cooking equipment that become airborne,” says Steeve Meehan, director of National Accounts and corporate chef, Food Service Solutions in Mississauga, Ont. “Commercial-grade air purifiers can help neutralize odours and kill bacteria. Prior to the pandemic, air quality wasn’t a mainstream focus but many people now have a new appreciation for clean air.”

To put it simply, there are two types of harmful things in the air. “It’s either pathogens, which can be bacterial, viral or fungal, or pollutants such as gases and particulate matter, which can be broken down further into different components,” says Dr. Lukasz Porosa, chief chemist, inventor of pathogen protection technologies and consultant.” He also teaches a seminar entitled Indoor Air Quality: A Breath of Fresh Air for industry professionals through the Resilient World Institute.

For customers, the smell, heat and humidity can significantly impact their overall dining experience. For staff who spend many hours a day in the space, poor air quality can impact productivity, activate allergies and trigger headaches, dizziness, nausea and more. And, at a time when the industry is experiencing record-high job vacancies, maintaining a clean work environment can help attract top talent.

“COVID has brought an awareness of the environment that we experience when we go to restaurants, urging a call to action for the need to address, monitor, understand and remediate the air quality in restaurants and by extension to all environments that we work and play in,” says Leon Wasser, director, School of Energy, Resilient World Institute, and vice-chair, Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.

What’s Available?

The majority of air purifiers work the same way, according to Dr. Porosa. They consist of a filter, or multiple filters, and a fan that sucks in and circulates air. “It really comes down to how fast the fan draws air into the filter and the efficiency of the filter itself. Most air purifiers use a HEPA filter, which can remove a minimum of 99.97 per cent of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter,” he says.

Launched in 2020, the Jaspr Pro air purifier offers a Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) of over 600 and removes more than 99 per cent of airborne pollutants. The filter should be replaced every six months and its effectiveness stands at a 430 CFM airflow rate for maximum output. It operates quietly at only 30 decibels and covers up to 1,600 sq. ft. with eight-foot ceilings. Weighing only 25 lbs, its steel body construction is recyclable, non-pollutant and durable. Additionally, the Jaspr Pro features three modes: smart mode, dark mode and deep-clean mode. According to its website, the Jaspr Pro costs CAD$1,399.

With dozens of foodservice customers in Canada, including Garlics of London in London, Ont., as well as food manufacturers and commercial kitchens/ghost kitchens, the Jaspr Pro has also grown to become a trusted choice in home and healthcare settings.

“We want to eat food, we don’t necessarily want to inhale all of the particulate,” says Mike Feldstein, founder and CEO of Jaspr. “COVID made air purifiers go from a want to a need, from a vitamin to a pain killer.” To keep up with the demand at the onset of the pandemic, Feldstein says the company opted for air freight instead of sea freight as a faster, safer and more reliable option.

Furthermore, Oregon-based EVO America offers air purification solutions for restaurants using UV technologies. The Bluezone by Middleby 450 Viral Kill units are ideal for indoor dining and FDA certified. The units use a combination of self-contained UV light and room-temperature oxidization to destroy viruses and volatile organic compounds, destroying up to 99.9995 per cent of airborne infectious aerosols. Weighing only 25 lbs, the 450 Viral Kill unit treats up to 9,000 cubic feet and bulb life lasts up to 8,800 hours or one year of continuous operation.

The Bluezone by Middleby 2400 model, on the other hand, is a UV food preservation system that’s designed to eliminate contaminants such as ethylene, mold, bacteria and odors in walk-in coolers. Treating up to 15,000 cubic feet, these units can be ceiling mount or shelf mount, increasing the shelf life of food from five days up to 25 days, ultimately reducing waste and saving money. Each Bluezone unit costs CAD$5,823 and CAD$5,695 respectively, according to Canadian distributor

“A lot of operators prefer to put the Viral Kill unit in a ready-to-go tower that makes them look more attractive in [a restaurant space], but still allows the contaminated air to get in and get out,” says Scott Heim, president, Ventless Solutions, The Middleby Corporation.

“At Room 623, we consistently make sure our audiences are aware of our commitment to their safety and that has been reinforced by the presence of the Bluezone unit,” says Marcus Goldhaber, creative director at Room 623 in Harlem, New York. “With the help of Dennis Francis, Scott Heim and the team at Evo America, we’ve been able to not only re-open our doors but also provide consistent comfort to our guests who are continually grateful for this effort towards creating a safe place to gather.”

In Canada, additional distributors include Mississauga, Ont.-based Nella Group Inc., Toronto-based Russell Hendrix, and Brampton, Ont.-based JFS Restaurant Equipment, among others.

While portable solutions are effective for most restaurants, Dr. Porosa adds restaurants that can run up to hundreds of thousands of dollars might consider HVAC upgrades, which are more expensive and time consuming.

“It’s called Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) which is a system that uses the heat in stale exhaust air to pre-heat incoming fresh air, or Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV), which transfers both heat and moisture,” he says.

Dr. Porosa continues, “The challenge with indoor air is it’s something we can’t see, so we tend to forget about it. We expect clean drinking water, but we don’t really expect clean air. It’s more complicated because every establishment has different ventilation systems and upgrading them can be expensive, but we spend most of our time indoors, so it’s important for operators and consumers to be aware of all their options.”

By Nicole Di Tomasso

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