Taste of Amherst provides fryolator safety

2 fryolator stations will be set up on each side of Town Common for popular event

Staff Writer
Published: 6/7/2016 10:50:34 PM

AMHERST — After organizers were forced to make last-minute adjustments in 2015 to ensure the fried food prepared at the Taste of Amherst complied with the state’s fire code, the silver anniversary of the food festival will not face similar issues.

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, the Fire Department and Building Commissioner Robert Morra have worked together in the nearly 12 months that have passed to ensure that fryolators can still be used on site and that safety will be enhanced when the event begins June 16.

“The fire station has been terrific,” said Kim Alli, marketing and membership director for the chamber. “They’ve been great supporting the event.”

Alli said the Taste will have two fryolator stations, one on each side of the Town Common, that will be set up and available for all restaurants that want to serve fried foods to patrons.

“They are allowing versatility where we can place them,” Alli said.

Through 2014, each participating restaurant wishing to prepare fried food could do so under its own tent. Last year, though, the event had just one area set aside for making this food, set aside from the rest of the common and done in the open air. This discouraged some restaurants from making fried food out of concern about transporting it through crowds of people to their tents.

These changes in 2015 were prompted by the revised Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code , which states that tents are structures similar to restaurant buildings and any use of fryolators requires appropriate fire suppression systems and hoods to handle the “grease-laden vapors” created through the cooking process.

Previously, local fire departments could waive certain rules, which allowed vendors to cook under tents. But this changed when the state adopted the National Fire Prevention Association code.

Michael Roy, who serves as the department’s fire prevention officer, said he met at least monthly with Alli to develop a site management plan for this year, and the chamber contracted with a professional design company to develop a platform on which the fryolators will be placed that both he and Morra could approve.

“We progressively worked to a (solution) we find very safe and very workable,” Roy said.

The state code continues to allow what are known as “peformance-based alternatives” to the fire suppression systems that would be found in a restaurant, and Roy said the fire department was able to offer organizers this flexibility through months of work.

After the four-day event, the chamber will be able to break down the structures it uses for the fryolators and will be able to use them again at future events, Roy said.

The 2015 operation plan will remain in effect, which placed limits on where open-air frying occurs and how close customers can get to the fryolators.

Regular grills for making other food and the warming trays used to keep food hot can still be kept under the tents, Roy said.

One other fire-related issue this year comes from the arrival of TOP Kabob, a new restaurant expected to open soon in Amherst. TOP Kabob will use a commercial outdoor charcoal frill and wood-based cooker at the Taste. This device will not be allowed under a tent.

Because of the hot embers it produces, Roy said an ash management plan was created to safely dispose of these.

“All cooking venues are basically protected now,” Roy said.

Alli said the Taste will bring several other new restaurants in addition to TOP Kabob, including Sunset Grill & Pizza, Goten of Japan, Haven Foods and Hangar Pub & Grill. A total of 21 restaurants will provide food, with no menu item priced at more than $5.

There will be live music throughout the event, face-painting for children, wagon rides provided by Muddy Brook Farm, and the Chowdown Challenge food-eating competition.

The event runs from 5 to 9 p.m. June 16, 5 to 10 p.m. June 17, noon to 10 p.m. June 18 and noon to 4 p.m. June 19.

The Amherst Business Improvement District will provide trolley rides from noon to 4 p.m. June 18.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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