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Out of the Frying Pan and into the Grease Fire

A Case Study in Food Science


Ingolf Gruen
Department of Food Science
University of Missouri


Late on a Saturday night, a fire in the kitchen of a popular restaurant results in almost a million dollars in damages. Fortunately, there is no loss of life or serious injury. Fire department officials think that a grease fire was most likely the cause of the blaze, but the investigation is ongoing. Students assume the role of the fire chief leading the investigation as they gather facts for the insurance report they must write about the fire. The case was developed for a course in food chemistry taken primarily by food science and dietetics students. It could also be used in a hotel and restaurant management program.


  • Learn about oil temperatures needed for deep fat frying.
  • Understand that different oils can be heated to different temperatures before breaking down.
  • Understand the concepts of smoke point, flash point, and fire point of oils and the reasons for differences in these parameters among oils.
  • Understand the effect of type of oil and the process of oil refining on these parameters.
  • Understand the effect of hydrolytic and oxidative rancidity on these parameters.
  • Learn how to convert degrees Fahrenheit into degrees Celsius.
  • Get an appreciation of the importance of record keeping in the food and food service industries.


Grease fire; oil temperature; smoke point; flash point; deep fat frying; rancidity; degumming; hydrogenation; fractionation; triacylglycerides

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues)



Subject Headings

Food Science / Technology  |  

Date Posted


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