The Viability Of Ventless

The team at rep firm Pecinka Ferri Associates, Fairfield, N.J., accidentally became huge proponents of ventless equipment when it moved into new headquarters last year. While finishing the new space, including a new test kitchen, the company had to make do with a temporary kitchen. “The short-term space we used is small and it precluded installing a traditional canopy hood,” says Joe Ferri, COO. “Necessity led us to look into ventless equipment options, and we were amazed at what’s available.” With such equipment as a Blodgett mini combi oven topped with a Hoodini, a Hatco Thermo-Finisher and a Perfect Fry ventless fryer, the company kept cooking throughout the construction period.

There are plenty of reasons why you might want or need to adopt ventless cooking equipment. Perhaps a “perfect” customer location has limited back-of-house space and no room for a hood. Or maybe you like having the ability, if needed, to move the operation from one location to another.

Maybe you’re looking to expand into a non-traditional space. Regardless of the reason, the array of ventless equipment on the market today is growing and gives all kinds of foodservice operations the ability to offer a broad menu, well beyond pizza and hot sandwiches. Manufacturers offer ventless equipment that enables you to fry, bake, steam, broil, toast, and slow cook and hold a vast array of menu items.

Ventless options are a huge deal to any operator looking to expand into smaller spaces, front-of-house applications, bars, c-stores, lobby kiosks, catering or banquet operations and demonstration cooking set-ups. To come full circle, you can even wash dishes with ventless dishmachines that capture the steamy condensate and use it to preheat incoming wash water. A completely vent-free kitchen is an option, but is it a viable option? Given the selection of ventless equipment operations available today, the answer is “absolutely,” in the right application.

What Is Ventless?
Traditional commercial kitchen ventilation (CKV) draws airborne grease, combustion products, fumes, smoke, odors, heat and steam from the cooking equipment and exhausts them outside of the space through ductwork and fan assemblies. Techs install these hoods in combination with fire-suppression devices so that fumes from a grease fire are properly vented and the fi re is put out quickly. The hoods combine with makeup-air units that draw in exterior air, either conditioned (cooled or heated) or straight from the outside, to replace the effluent drawn out by the hoods and to maintain balanced air pressure in the facility. For volume cooking, a traditional CKV system is mandatory. But what if a CKV system isn’t possible?

Ventless technology does the same effluent filtering but within the design of the equipment. Ventless equipment captures, removes and reduces grease, food particles, steam, fumes and odors produced by the vapors of the cooking process. The process of cleaning or “scrubbing” the effluent is done by the use of small self-contained, recirculating fans and filtering equipment.

Clearing The Air
There are two basic types of filtration systems in ventless equipment: mechanical and electronic.

Self-contained or ventless hoods created to pair with common pieces of equipment—such as those you’d see on a rotisserie, combi oven or cook-and-hold oven or over a fryer, for example—have the same type of baffles that traditional hoods use to extract large grease particles from the effluent coming off the cooking equipment. Self-contained mechanical filtration systems have additional filters that remove smaller particles. These can be constructed of different materials, and often there are two or more filter levels.

Common configurations include:
• Stainless mesh screen filters designed to remove smaller grease particles.
• Disposable paper or woven fiberglass filters which remove most of the smallest particles. These can include HEPA filters.
• Activated charcoal filters. Also disposable, these final filters are used to remove odors from the air before it’s exhausted back into the space.

Electronic filtration is accomplished with an electrostatic precipitator (ESP). Air passing through this filter is electronically charged, and the charged grease and smoke particles are attracted to a collection grid with an opposite charge. While ESPs do a good job of cleaning the exhaust, most ventless systems using them also have a charcoal filter to help remove odors.

Ventless Options
The selection of ventless equipment has exploded in recent years. Fast-cook ovens, such as those from Ovention, Alto-Shaam, TurboChef, Bakers Pride, Merrychef and ACP deliver a wide range of ventless cooking methods; several of these companies offer ventless conveyor ovens as well. Other ventless options include self-contained hoods by Equipex and Star (countertop versions), Halton, Franke, Giles, Moffat and Wells/Bloomfield that go over regular equipment; downdraft induction grill technologies (on mobile carts) by Vollrath, Evo and Kaliber Innovations (more on these to follow). Rational combis can be equipped with the company’s UltraVent, Alto-Shaam has the CombiHood, and Blodgett’s combi has the Hoodini option; and Eloma’s Genius MT electric combis also can be self-venting. Cook-and-hold ovens by Alto-Shaam, Thermodyne and FWE can be equipped with self-contained hoods as well. Frying goes ventless with AutoFry, Perfect Fry and Broaster. Look through the product listings of any small appliance manufacturer and you’ll find an amazing array of equipment to produce a menu without a ducted hood overhead.

Manufacturers continue to innovate and advance ventless technology to increase productivity and benefit operators. In fact, ventless products were 2014 and 2015 recipients of the National Restaurant Association’s Kitchen Innovations Awards, which honor equipment and technologies that increase productivity and benefit operators. Evo earned recognition for its EVent Ductless Downdraft Ventilation Cooking Station, which features an internally ducted, self-contained downdraft recirculating ventilation system. Vollrath’s Downdraft Vent Module, a 2014 winner, comes with one or two induction cooktops and a built in fire-suppression system. (Another mobile cart, from Kaliber Innovations, comes with integral ventilation as well; it recently debuted on the market.)

Hobart earned recognition in 2015’s KI Awards for its FT1000 Flight-Type Dish Machine. Most dishmachine makers offer ventless operation on some units, including Champion, CMA, Electrolux, Insinger, Jackson, MEIKO and Winterhalter. Merrychef took honors in 2015 for its eikon e4s with Panini Grill, which uses rapid-cook technology. And Ovention earned 2015 KI recognition for its Matchbox M360, a compact, ventless oven sporting rapid-cook technology without microwaves.

The Good
Ventless technology has been proven and the equipment is available. But what’s the advantage? Robert Doland, FCSI, Principal at Jacobs, Doland, Beer, a New York-based consulting firm, says, ventless equipment offers flexibility and cost savings.

“Ventless equipment allows for tremendous flexibility for locating cooking and service points within a foodservice facility,” Doland says. “When compared to the overall cost of putting in a fire-rated exhaust shaft through a building, [ventless] units may cost substantially less.” Plus, operators can do more cooking in smaller spaces, reducing the facility’s overall footprint, which translates into cost savings, he adds.

“Lots of operators would like to offer foodservice in buildings where traditional venting isn’t an option,” says Karen Malody, Owner/Principal, Culinary Options, Portland, Ore. “With ventless equipment and thoughtful menu engineering, operators can generate food, and sales, that would otherwise not be possible.”

Trish Jass, Sr. Equipment Specialist at Rippe Associates, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm, agrees choosing ventless equipment for certain applications can save on costs. “Often, there is a lower initial equipment cost when hoods, ductwork and fans are factored out of the equation,” Jass says.

But while ventless equipment can be a good option, and more is becoming available, it’s not a replacement for a traditional kitchen. “Some of these ventless systems can be expensive, require frequent maintenance and service and limit the equipment that can be used with them effectively,” Doland adds.

For Your Consideration…
Ventless equipment does have limitations. First, gas-fired equipment is not an option in a ventless environment—only electric. And if you’re planning any kind of high-volume production, then of course a traditional CKV system over regular equipment is the right call. Plus, there are codes to meet and permits to acquire to go ventless, so local code authorities will play a critical role in incorporating ventless equipment into operations. “The size of the ventless unit has to be considered, as well,” Jass says. “Some units with integral hoods can be quite tall.” Measure the space where the unit is going to be installed and check for proper clearance.

Operators can abuse the systems if they don’t pay careful attention to the amount of steam and vapors in the effluent of the cooking device. The results can render the units inoperable and if maintenance is let go, most units are designed to shut down as a means of safety. “If this happens during service hours, it could be disastrous,” Doland says.

Additionally, while ventless exhaust systems largely eliminate grease and reduce odors, the systems don’t exhaust like traditional vented systems do and odors and particulates can linger. The more open space around ventless equipment, the better.

The Final Verdict

The ventless equipment arena has made great strides and advances in the types of equipment available, the cost of the equipment and technology used. There are many advantages to choosing the ventless option and going ventless will work well for all sorts of applications, especially in non-traditional venues. We expect to see more options come on the market in the future.

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