Quick-service restaurants are responsible for improving indoor air quality for their customers’ comfort and the planet’s wellness. The food industry must prioritize air care, or it becomes a public and environmental health crisis because contaminants and pollutants transfer easily. Knowing why the issue is important is the first step, and restaurants must employ modern tech and tools to bring IAQ to the next level.

How Does Improving IAQ Benefit Quick-Service Restaurants?

Public awareness around IAQ rose during the COVID-19 pandemic and is only becoming more focal. Therefore, clearing the air provides customers with physical, emotional, and mental comfort. If visitors get headaches, breathing problems or allergies during their time, they will question the establishment’s quality and hygiene standards. Maintain trust and reputation by keeping IAQ top of mind.

Controlling rapidly spreading contaminants is also essential to keep employee morale high and minimize health and safety incidents. Increased absenteeism or workers’ compensation claims are likely if the place is riddled with grease spray, food residue, allergens or chemical mists. It keeps the entire restaurant sanitized and increases the chance that points of contact for food delivery are as germ- and pathogen-free as possible.

Consider how this could influence buffets, which have open containers handled by hundreds of customers. Quick-service brands with open-air kitchens are particularly vulnerable to poor IAQ, with particulate matter averages exceeding WHO and EPA recommendations. The research demonstrated employees were 15 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 in these environments with poor air care.

Additionally, good air quality benefits the planet. Pollutants created in the kitchen, dining areas and restrooms should not escape outdoors. It impacts more than the air—it gets into waterways and soil, harming biodiversity, agriculture and habitat wellness.

What Influences IAQ in Restaurants?

Several metrics impact IAQ in the QSR industry. Slight variations apply based on location, shop size, traffic and other factors, but businesses need to know where to look to understand why these polluters cause problems and start fixing them.


HVAC systems are the most influential factors in dispersing clean, fresh air throughout a building. They are in charge of circulation and blocking some pollutants from the vents. Numerous illnesses, dust, allergens, volatile organic compounds, and other particulates travel unseen, potentially landing in kitchens or on customers’ orders. The number of particles from cooking alone diminishes IAQ significantly.

People feel and taste a difference if these accumulate anywhere in the restaurant. Without adequate ventilation, employees will get sick and spread even more contaminants in the space. Resilient exhaust hoods are pivotal, as they intertwine with the system to push tainted air out and good air back inside.

Gas Ranges

Gas-powered ovens and stoves irritate the lungs while polluting the planet with harmful fossil fuels. These ranges are responsible for 12.7 percent of childhood asthma cases in households and the number increases with the restaurant workforce. It is a proven health hazard but is removable by replacing appliances for safer alternatives. Induction and other electric ovens are a popular choice for many quick-serves.

Filter Care

Filters are embedded into HVAC and related systems to keep airborne particles and pollutants out of the restaurant. They should have scheduled changes, cleanings and maintenance to ensure they are not worsening the air. The best filters have high Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values, distinguishing how well it keeps things out.


Temperature plays a surprising role in the spread of IAQ factors. Heat may cause particles to replicate or disperse efficiently, while colder conditions might make it more challenging to remove suspected contaminants.


Controlling humidity is essential for keeping contaminants within manageable limits. Warm and wet environments are prime for airborne illnesses to transfer and mold to populate, making it difficult for quick-service restaurants to pass safety and health inspections.

Engineers design modern air systems to manage humidity in commercial cooking environments by intelligently recirculating outside air. Advanced technologies like integrated Internet of Things devices use sensors to monitor and report metrics like humidity automatically for constant oversight and management, improving conditions with minimal necessary intervention.

How Do Restaurants Start Boosting IAQ?

Routine HVAC maintenance is the most critical pillar in controlling temperature, humidity, and filtration. The unit, ductwork and peripherals should have regular cleanings between preventive adjustments.

Prioritizing appropriately sized HEPA filters is a way to boost filtration capabilities because they are known for catching smaller particles. R an air quality analysis while experts visit to perform routine work will validate IAQ cleaning efforts and guide future action.

When renovating, ensure areas likely to get dirty the fastest are easy to access. Installing doors and room clearance will be crucial for staying on top of duties. Human error and neglecting duties like checking friers and charbroilers are more influential to air quality than they seem because of high concentrations of organic material.

Cleaning routines should change while adopting better IAQ habits. Toxic sprays and polluting chemicals like bleach are often unnecessary when countless cleaner and greener options are on the market.

Restaurants may consider additional technologies, such as IoT devices and air purifiers. They can sanitize the air of pollutants while providing instantaneous updates on performance anomalies or cleaning reminders. IAQ monitors can inspect these factors:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • VOCs
  • Formaldehyde
  • Radon
  • Particulate matter

Another strategy is replacing antiquated appliances that emit more pollution than necessary or require aerosols or chemicals to clean. Major QSR Chipotle announced its mission to replace gas grills with electric stoves in 100 locations to move toward cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent. Review exhaust infrastructure and kitchen hoods similarly because grease buildup, smoke and odors lingering in these systems reduce IAQ.

Better Food in Better Air

COVID-19 made more customers and organizations consider IAQ, but it has always been quintessential to quality establishments. Monitoring and continually improving the air enhances the food and its consumers while leaving less harmful leftovers on the planet. Much IAQ management revolves around maintenance and high-quality infrastructure, which every restaurant—regardless of size and scope—can incorporate.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over five years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.

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