Home Appliance Industry Moving Forward on Plan to Reduce Unattended Cooking Fires
Learn more about the plans ahead.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), which represents the vast majority of kitchen range and cook top manufacturers selling in North America, announced in October an ambitious program to try to reduce the potential for unattended cooking fires, while maintaining the cooking performance that consumers have come to expect. While more than 125 million ranges and cooktops are in use today in the United States and Canada largely without incident, unattended cooking remains the leading cause of household fires in these countries.
Most of these cases involve the cook leaving the food material unattended while either in the kitchen or outside. For many years, AHAM has partnered with a number of groups, such as UL and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), to encourage greater awareness of the unattended cooking issue.
AHAM and CPSC worked together in 2000 to determine whether technological changes could reduce the number of incidents, but based on a study by Arthur D. Little, the conclusions were that technology had not sufficiently advanced to consistently reduce the likelihood of such fires and provide consistent performance. Research has continued over the last 14 years by both the industry and CPSC and the most recent studies by Primaira LLC indicate that such technologies may exist to interrupt certain high heat situations, as may be found in unattended cooking, before the ignition of common cooking oils.
Shortly before the close of 2014, AHAM submitted a proposal to the leading U.S. and Canadian safety standards organizations, UL and the Canadian Standards Association. The proposal includes a test procedure to evaluate cooktops equipped with sensors and other devices that may prevent cookware from reaching the oil ignition temperatures. The proposal is moving through the safety standards process, and will likely reach the voting process by spring of 2015.
This new test procedure initially will apply to electric coil-element cooktops which experience a disproportionate number of cooking fires, according to data tracked by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Also according to the NFPA, fire departments in the U.S. responded to 156,600 home fires in 2013 in which cooking equipment was involved. Of these, ranges or cooktops were the equipment involved in 57% of the reported home fires. Unattended cooking was a factor in 34% of all reported home fires.
AHAM’s comprehensive approach on cooking safety continues to stress consumer education on the dangers of unattended cooking. AHAM cooking safety information is provided regularly to fire departments and is available on our website. Our safety standards efforts center on revising the safety standards: UL 858 and CSA C22.2 No. 61 to require all coil element cooktops to successfully meet the test. Specifically, the initial test will directly address cooking oil ignitions on the electric coil-element surface cooking units using a specified pan, heat setting, oil type, and time. In collaboration with UL and CSA on this important phase, technical and product safety experts in AHAM member companies will be working together to determine how similar tests and requirements ultimately can be applied to radiant glass ceramic, induction, and gas cooktops and ranges.
As AHAM stated in its technical documentation submitted to UL and CSA along with its proposal, the testing of electric radiant cooktops (glass ceramic or “smooth top”) yielded several challenges that still need to be addressed. These concerns include: i) pan flatness and the impact on sensing the pan temperature from below the glass-ceramic surface; ii) the interaction between the pan temperature sensors and the existing glass-break sensor; and iii) the interaction of different pan materials with the sensor. Additionally, the Primaira research showed variations in the oil ignition temperature data, which demonstrates the difficulty of establishing a certain specified temperature limit as an absolute level.
AHAM believes manufacturers should be able to focus on delivering consumer performance expectations yet use their engineering capabilities to limit the energy to prevent ignition. Even greater questions remain for gas cooking in order to redesign the burner mechanism, reduce or extinguish the flame safely, and restart the cooking process when the temperature is reduced. These technological challenges need to be addressed before a voluntary standards proposal can be submitted for these cooking products.
AHAM members believe that a phased approach provides the best balance between protecting consumers’ interests and continuing to offer high-performing, quality products. This overall plan, coupled with enhanced consumer education and awareness activities, is designed to contribute to a significant reduction in the incidence of unattended cooking fires.
The goals AHAM is pursuing are ambitious and will require significant technical developments and work with vendors and other stakeholders. For example, before any new technology can be made available on a large-scale, there needs to be:
- Testing with a variety of pans, cooktop designs, heating elements, cookware conditions, oil types, energy levels, and manufacturer tolerances in the sensors
- Testing to ensure that any new devices comply with existing safety requirements
- Sensors that will work as designed and allow consumers to cook and clean the oven or cooktop
- A wider range of cooking tests to ensure that all standard cooking operations can continue
- Reliability testing on new components to ensure they will survive common household environments for several decades
- A test that is valid, repeatable, and reproducible in many laboratories around the world.
AHAM concludes that the recent Primaira research report shows that pan contact sensing technology, when used with coil element cooktops, has shown a level of feasibility that warrants moving forward with this technology and with a standards proposal. Additional work is required to ensure that cooking performance with both metal and glass pans are acceptable. Since the technology has shown to be feasible in the laboratory or concept stage, it is now appropriate to define the test standard proposal to which the end product may be certified.
AHAM member companies are fully committed to working with various stakeholders, including the CPSC and Health Canada on these remaining areas of work and report periodically to these groups on our progress. We are confident that a test procedure and proposal to improve the applicable industry standard will be forthcoming. Together with consumer education, this voluntary standard improvement will further the goal of reducing injuries, fires and property damage.
AHAM’s proposal represents a leap forward in product safety improvement, made possible by recent advancements in technology. It will take cooperation and collaboration from all stakeholders and ultimately will allow the industry to provide significant safety enhancements to the appliances that consumers rely upon daily.
AHAM’s member companies are committed to continuously improving product safety. Over the past year alone, AHAM has submitted nearly 20 safety proposals to the U.S. and Canadian safety standards bodies, with the goal of enhancing the safety of household appliances. For decades, AHAM has boosted consumer awareness of unattended cooking fires and other safety issues through consumer education initiatives and advocated for improvements to industry safety standards in the U.S. and Canada.