Combatting Hidden Hazards of Bad Air Quality in Restaurant Kitchens

The term air pollution describes harmful gases and particles present in the air, which pose a health risk when inhaled.

When we think of air pollution, our minds often drift to images of smog-filled cityscapes or industrial smokestacks. However, the air quality inside buildings, particularly in restaurant kitchens, is an often-overlooked aspect of environmental health. Research shows that exposure to particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the kitchen can be responsible for a range of respiratory health effects and it has been demonstrated that chefs and other restaurant staff are likely to be at increased health risk due to exposure to these contaminants in commercial kitchens. Occupational physicians have also found that the lung cancer rate among chefs is relatively high.[1]


Uncover Key Sources of Kitchen Air Contaminants

Indoor air pollution in restaurant kitchens can arise from various sources. The most common are listed below.

Cooking Emissions: Cooking is probably the major source of indoor air pollution in commercial kitchens. Grilling, frying, and other cooking methods produce smoke and grease, releasing harmful particulates and gases into the air. Grilling burgers in fast food restaurants for instance releases twice as much PM into the air per year as truck and factory emissions. Restaurant operations equipped with certain charcoal grills are responsible for about 84% of PM2.5 emissions in the greater Los Angeles area.[2]

Improper Ventilation: Cooking in kitchens lacking adequate ventilation can also lead to bad air quality that is harmful to health. The most effective method of ensuring good air circulation in a commercial kitchen is through the installation of a high-efficiency range hood above the stove. For restaurant kitchens using a gas stove, it's crucial to have it inspected annually by a certified technician to check for any gas leaks and carbon monoxide emissions.[3]

Cleaning Agents: In restaurant kitchens, the use of cleaning agents can also be a source of indoor air pollution, primarily due to the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals, found in many traditional cleaning products, can degrade air quality and pose health issues to staff and guests.

The table below gives an overview of the most common pollutants, where they arise and how they affect human’s health.



Health Impact

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) 

An invisible gas produced by burning fuels at high temperatures

Gas hobs and ovens, gas patio heaters, gas boilers

Causes respiratory inflammation, leading to symptoms such as coughing and wheezing, diminished lung capacity, asthma, and may result in hospital admissions.

Particulate matter (PM) 

Tiny airborne particles, smaller than 1/20th the width of a human hair, including vaporized grease and smoke

High-temperature cooking of fats and oils (e.g., deep-frying, pan-frying, grilling), burning food, charcoal grills/BBQs, and wood-fired ovens

Triggers respiratory, cardiovascular, and systemic inflammation, associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, dementia, and various cancers.

Volatile organic compounds (VOC) 

Gases and vapors released by certain solids or liquids

Heating oils and foods, use of cleaning products, paints, and emissions from new furnishings, carpets, and building materials

Causes respiratory irritation and nausea, can lead to asthma and lung conditions, with certain VOCs recognized as carcinogenic.

Table 1: Types, sources and health impacts of pollutants in restaurant kitchens[4]


Strategies to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

IAQ Monitoring: Monitoring indoor air quality within restaurant kitchens is the first step for identifying and mitigating health risks associated with air pollution. This involves tracking various pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), to ensure a safe and healthy working environment.

With the new TSI OmniTrak™ Solution you can forget about monitoring multiple parameters with separate instruments. Choose to measure PM, VOC, formaldehyde, ozone, chlorine, ammonia, VOC-PID-PPB, and carbon monoxide, or any combination, with a single device.

Enhance Ventilation: Invest in superior ventilation systems to efficiently eliminate pollutants. Keep ventilation systems and air filters well-maintained and clean.

Eco-friendly Cleaners: Choose natural, non-toxic cleaning agents to minimize VOC emissions.

Educate Staff: Inform kitchen staff about the significance of air quality and the operation of monitoring equipment. By understanding the sources of pollution, regularly monitoring air quality, and implementing best practices, restaurant owners can create a safer, healthier working environment.


Stay proactive in understanding and improving indoor air quality. Ensuring a clean kitchen encompasses not only visible cleanliness but also the purity of the air we breathe. Prioritize safety and well-being by taking actionable steps towards a healthier kitchen environment for both workers and diners.


[1] Howook (Sean) Chang et al: Why cleaning the invisible in restaurants is important during COVID-19: A case study of indoor air quality of an open-kitchen restaurant. IN: Int J Hosp Manag. 2021 Apr; 94: 102854,,exposure%20in%20the%20commercial%20kitchen, last checked February 2, 2024

[2] Gysel, Nicholas et al: Particulate matter emissions and gaseous air toxic pollutants from commercial meat cooking operations. IN: J Environ Sci (China) 2018 Mar:65:162-170., last checked February 2, 2024.