Commercial Grease Trap Pitfalls That Can Hurt Your Business
Restaurant Grease Trap Cleaning & Maintenance Tips
To Keep Your Business Compliant
4 Serious Grease Trap Problems That Will Keep You Up at Night
Commercial Grease Trap Pitfalls That Can Hurt Your Business
You could suffer from insomnia and potentially be out of the restaurant business if you ignore a few of the more severe issues that can arise from operating a commercial grease trap.
Are you opening a restaurant? Looking to learn about operating a commercial grease trap and the potential pitfalls? Well, you’re in the right place.
Starting your restaurant is a tough task. From buying the equipment, receiving all permits and official approvals, to hiring an experienced staff and Chef. Whew!
When it comes to purchasing a grease trap – there are many variables so be sure to do the research. Each one of them is important but be sure to talk to city officials first before making your purchase.
- Size – how many guests will you serve or how big is your kitchen?
- Material – metal, plastic, fiberglass, etc.
- Usage – how will it be used in the kitchen? Is it meant to be used with a sink, a dishwasher, and so on?
- Above ground or underground – this variable is typically dependent on restaurant size, but sometimes not
- Self-cleaning – some grease traps today are automated
Restaurant grease traps can make or break your plans, and all cities each have their regulations when it comes to traps and what makes them compliant. Success is dependent on establishing a solid foundation, and in the restaurant business, this means proper, dependable commercial cooking equipment and appliances. One of which is a commercial grease trap.
It’s safe to expect kitchen waste from food that is washed, prepared, chopped, cooked and served. Where does the waste, otherwise known as fat, oil, and grease (FOG) go? Not down the sink, not in the trash, but in your grease trap.
No grease trap, no restaurant. That is how essential it is to have a top-notch commercial grease trap that can handle the activity of your restaurant.
Common restaurant grease trap problems
There are a handful of issues that can happen when operating a restaurant grease trap. Most of the following issues are common, but it’s important to be aware of all types of things that could go wrong.
Incoming line clog – A clog in this line means water back up in the main line that passes through to the grease trap.
Increased city charges due to FOG – Cities worldwide spend thousands of dollars each year cleaning and repairing sewer lines clogged by FOG and millions of dollars a year to treat wastewater. Even though FOG enters the sewer system through various locations – food service businesses are by far the dominant contributor of FOG. If your restaurant is in an area guilty of consistent build-up, leakage and excess FOG you will pay more to help with the city’s cleaning costs.
Clog in outgoing line – If your restaurant grease trap is not being cleaned regularly or pumped it may clog your outgoing line, which will lead to overflow in both compartments of your grease trap – the first part is where grease and water separate and the second part is where wastewater filters into the sewers.
Full grease trap – Grease trap pumping is imperative for a restaurant. If you’re lazy about having your trap pumped, the first compartment (where grease and fats separate) will become full and cause a backup. Both the second chamber and the incoming and outgoing lines will back up as well.
If any of these should occur, contact your local septic or grease trap cleaning service immediately. Don’t try and do it yourself – this is not the time to get into a DIY project that may end up costing you, even more, money if not performed correctly.
Serious commercial grease trap problems
Now that we’ve established some common issues with restaurant grease traps let’s take a deeper dive and look at some more pressing problems that could occur and why they may just keep you up at night.
Diagnosing grease trap problems can turn into a full-time job if cleaning your grease trap is not a priority. FOG build up, and clogging issues are one thing, but believe it or not, there are much worse things that could happen. Some could even lead you to have to shut your doors for a period or ultimately put you out of business.
Grease trap flow restrictor– An essential and necessary part of a commercial grease trap installation, the flow restrictor allows air to enter the pipe and restricts the amount of water going into the trap so as not to overflow it. If the water flows too quickly and the trap gets overwhelmed grease can escape the trap.
Most blockages can be cleared by a professional using brush to alleviate the obstruction from the sink or drain side of things. However, some blockages are so severe that the grease build up covers not only the restrictor hole but the air vent as well. And, if this happens you have a more significant problem! Here is a simple diagram displaying the restrictor on the left, near the inlet.
When considering a flow restrictor look for options that provide a more extensive air vent, equal to the size of the drain pipe. Also, be sure the actual restrictor (the inner wall fitted with the hole) is made of solid metal. Plastic ones are not heavy duty enough and can deteriorate quickly.
Employee injuries – All the other problems listed here pale in comparison to this one. As a business owner you have a responsibility to operate and maintain your grease trap properly. Not just for your safety, but more for the safety of those that you employ. Establishing grease trap cleaning services up front is a must.
Greasy floors are a common cause for slipping and falling incidents in restaurants. Sadly, employees and anyone part of the business is at risk. Jeff Nelken, a food and safety expert, says that “Slips and falls statistically land at the top of the list of accidents that occur in food service kitchens.”
Restaurant greasy floor accidents can cause bruises, bumps, and broken limbs, but they can also have devastating results to include:
- Spinal cord injury
- Bone fractures
- Head injury
- Brain damage
Your responsibility as a business owner is to be proactive in preventing any serious issue like this due to an overflowing grease trap. Require an on-hire training for new staff to show them the proper shoes to wear and process or flow of the kitchen at meal service time. Place warning signs on greasy floors. Most importantly, administer the help of professionals on a regular basis to come and clean and pump your restaurant grease trap. If you choose to ignore your grease trap – it could end up costing you a pretty penny in a liability lawsuit or medical charges.
Grease fires – Grease build up on a kitchen hood, and duct system is one of the leading causes of fires in a restaurant. However proper cleaning and maintenance can reduce your risk. Commercial kitchens are required to have these components professionally cleaned on a regular basis as stated by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). If you choose to ignore this requirement you could receive a hefty fine or worse – the NFPA may decide to close your restaurant.
The NFPA Code 96: Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations outlines the following regulations when it comes to keeping your kitchen hood clean. Facility Solutions Nationwide (SLM) breaks down a cleaning schedule:
- Annually – Commercial kitchens serving low traffic groups such as camps, churches, seasonal establishments, etc.
- Semi-Annually – Commercial kitchens serving moderate traffic groups
- Quarterly – Commercial kitchens serving high-volume traffic groups such as 24-hour diners, restaurants that serve charbroiled items, wok cooking, etc.
- Monthly – Commercial kitchens that serve solid fuel within their restaurant
Cleaning and sanitizing restaurant kitchen hoods and duct systems should be part of and included in the job description of your kitchen staff. However, the regulations outlined above are in place for restaurant owners to follow. You, as the sole owner, need to hire professional help to remain compliant.
Fires caused by kitchen grease are severe, can cost thousands – even millions of dollars, and put lives and the jobs of your employees in jeopardy. Regular grease removal and cleaning are crucial. From the hood to the ducts and commercial fans – all parts of a restaurant kitchen need to be thoroughly inspected for proper installation and operation. Maintaining these elements with regular cleanings is part of the restaurant owners’ responsibility which can end up saving you a ton of worry, hassle and sleepless nights.
Grease Trap Smell – A decrease in business – You can imagine the smells from vegetable oils, meat fats, and fryer grease once they’ve been sitting and stagnant for some time. Bad odors are a death sentence for restaurants and more than likely it’s due to a lack of grease trap cleaning. When this occurs, folks don’t even need to walk through your doors to notice it.
If your grease trap is outside – even potential customers walking by can smell the obnoxious odors coming out from underground and up through the grease cap. New potential customers will also not give you a chance if they stroll by and are turned off by the smell.
Smell is essential – it’s one of the five senses and many people associate memories with smells. For example, when you smell apple pie you might think of visits to your grandma’s house and all the pleasant memories you had spending time there. These experiences are just the same when it comes to bad odors. You do not want your restaurant to be known as the “stinky neighborhood joint.” Even if you do clean up and the smells dissipate – you can never redo a first impression.
Bad odors due to sulfuric gases and hydrogen sulfide, can drastically decrease your foot traffic, word of mouth referrals and reviews can cause damage not only your reputation but to your restaurant’s success. However, this all can be prevented by doing your part as a business owner and having your commercial grease trap cleaned and pumped on a regular basis.
On top of the regular maintenance of your restaurant grease trap, there are a few other solutions to keeping the smells at bay.
- Natural odor eliminators that bind to the odors and convert them into an environmentally friendly compound that controls odors
- Units that fit under manholes or grease trap caps that contain a filter which absorbs the odors before they reach the surface
- Biological and microbial additives in the form of dissolving tablets, liquid concentrates, or grease control blocks can help to reduce smells using active bacterial cultures that digest the FOG
Commercial Grease Trap Cleaning Services
By now you’ve heard it plenty of times. Grease trap cleaning is a must. There are various types of commercial services available that you can tap into for professional help.
One piece of advice when it comes to cleaning your restaurant grease trap – do not try to do it yourself. It’s a big, messy, smelly and complicated job. Most folks do not have the equipment needed or the time. And, not to mention the money if you happen to make a mistake or miss something important.
General Grease Trap Hygiene
Proper commercial grease trap hygiene combines cleaning many areas of a grease trap and any outside, related components. Don’t think you can just “pump and dump.” Cleaning your trap involves several parts.
- Pumping the trap to rid it of accumulated FOGs and hauling them to a licensed processing facility
- Scraping out any hardened FOGs that have sat overtime
- Cleaning the flow restrictor to allow wastewater to filter efficiently
- Clearing kitchen, sink, or dishwasher drains
- Extruding any waste that is in any lines leading into and out of your grease trap
It is also a good idea to choose a professional grease trap cleaning service to get set up on a regular maintenance routine. Once your restaurant business kicks off and is thriving – a maintenance cleaning program will give you peace of mind, and you will not have to worry about forgetting to schedule a cleaning or having a significant back-up, or worse have to close your doors.
Not all grease trap cleaning and pumping vendors complete the job. It is essential to look for someone who is professional, certified and takes most of the work on for you to alleviate the hassle. It’s also vital that your grease trap cleaning vendor educates you on ways to prevent problems – saving you money.
Your grease trap cleaning service should help you:
- Remain compliant with current, local rules and regulations
- Maintain cleaning and servicing records on your behalf should an inspector request them
- Educate you and your staff on proper maintenance and disposal
- Clear out your trap without disrupting your business
- Be environmentally focused by repurposing much of the waste removed
- Dispose of waste that can’t be repurposed to a licensed facility – specific to local regulations
Grease trap pumping
Professional grease trap pumping companies have trucks specifically for pumping grease and for hauling it to a licensed processor. These vehicles typically carry a few hundred feet of hose so that no matter where your restaurant grease trap resides, they can quickly reach it. A good trap pumping consists of the following:
- After uncovering the grease trap lid, the hose is placed inside the grease trap to pump both the solid and liquid waste
- The grease trap is then scraped for any hardened FOGs and rinsed thoroughly (some companies will use a high pressured water system to clear solid debris that has hardened)
- The trap is inspected to ensure there are no serious problems or future issues that may occur – the trap walls, floor, lid, and baffle are surveyed
- Once the grease trap pumping and inspection are complete – the lid is replaced, and the service is recorded
Keep in mind if you do not have your grease trap pumped or cleaned or a regular basis you will pay. Your local sewer authority will begin charging you higher fees due to the blockage your trap is creating and the waste that is leaking into the city sewer lines. However, there are a few actions you can take that will help eliminate your trap getting fuller faster and causing a backup. These ideas may work for some smaller restaurants – larger or busier establishments may need to rely on their grease trap cleaning service.
- Place fresh oil and grease in collection containers
- Remove oil and grease from kitchen utensils, pots, pans and food prep areas with scrapers, towels, etc. and dispose of the waste in the garbage before washing
- Keep grease out of the wash water
- Do NOT pour hot water down the drain as this will flush the FOG right through into the city sewer line
- Do NOT connect garbage disposals to the trap
- Do NOT connect high-temperature dishwashers to the trap
- Do NOT flush any chemicals that are not explicitly made for grease traps into your trap
Grease trap replacement
There are many reasons for replacing your restaurant grease trap. Perhaps your trap is old, has become damaged and no longer works, maybe you need a replacement because your business is expanding and you need a more massive trap, or it could be that your trap is not compliant. Whatever the reason – above everything you need a reliable, valuable working grease trap that will keep your doors open.
Grease traps can take a beating, and they do have a shelf life even though they are made of heavy-duty materials like concrete, fiberglass, metal, etc. However, FOGs are dangerous compounds that can do some significant damage – especially over time.
From corrosion to deterioration FOGs slowly eat away at just about all materials even with regular cleaning, and can eventually cause your commercial grease trap to break-down and stop working. And, any smart restaurant owner knows you can’t go without one.
Before you are ready to purchase a new grease trap, it’s important to do your due diligence. Grease traps have been around since the 1800’s and over time technology has advanced hundreds even thousands of times over so it’s imperative that you know the characteristics of a newer trap. It’s also a good idea to contact your local authority and find out what may have been added to the list of “must-have’s” to remain compliant.
Restaurant grease trap – the how and why
Your local city sewer authority calls the shots when it comes to your restaurant grease trap and proper installation, operation and maintenance. Before you purchase a grease trap or plan the layout of your kitchen – it is important to speak with sewer officials and have them assess your plans to ensure proper compliance.
In this section, we will discuss why you need a grease trap, how one works and a recap of some of the most common sewer authority guidelines and applications for grease traps and their role in commercial kitchens.
Why grease traps are necessary
Grease traps are required to both restaurants and the city you live in for some of the same and different reasons. Let’s review.
Restaurants need grease traps to service many meals day after day – and not just any meal, but tasty, healthy meals. The grease traps take all the waste from cooking and hold the FOG while filtering wastewater into the city sewer. This process helps support the health and hygiene of your business. It prevents accidents by keeping the floors grease-free, it keeps the commercial cooking equipment clear of messy oils to avoid fires, and it saves you money by dodging hefty city fees and fines by keeping FOG out of the sewer system.
City sewers systems need restaurants to operate grease traps to keep FOGs out of the city pipes, to prevent clogging or blocking city lines, averting flooded streets, homes and commercial establishments. Grease traps also protect the environment within your neighborhood. It also keeps city costs low by limiting the time and staff it takes to clean and maintain the city sewer lines.
How do grease traps work?
There are various types of commercial grease traps, and each one is set up a bit differently. However, most primary grease traps have the same components and function in the same way. Those five elements include:
- Inlet pipe – The pipe that carries the water and the FOGs before entering the trap.
- Flow rate controller – This element slows down the wastewater as it enters the trap to prevent it from getting overwhelmed. It also contains an air vent, so pressure does not build up.
- Baffles – These metal sheets are inside the trap and are used to separate the FOG solids from the wastewater.
- Water – This water is not wastewater but water that is used to cool down the FOGs and converts them into solids so they can easily separate and live in the grease trap instead of making their way to the city sewer lines.
- Outlet pipe – This is the pipe where the wastewater flows from before entering into the city sewer pipes.
Sewer authority FOG regulations
There are many regulations, and it depends on the city where your restaurant is located. However, there are a few that are common among many major cities that more than likely will apply to your commercial kitchen. Here are a few.
- Grease trap or grease interceptor adequately installed
- A qualified grease trap cleaning program
- Correctly sized and efficiently operating commercial grease trap
- Proper and regular FOG pumping, hauling and disposal
- Recordkeeping of grease trap authority reviews, cleaning details and maintenance
- Periodic inspections from a city sewer authority official and occasional fees for reimbursement of the authority’s cost of the FOG program and any time spent on maintenance or cleaning of city lines
Environmental effects of FOG
Did you know, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 40 CFR 112, vegetable oils and animal fats are included under the same regulations as petroleum oils? What’s that you said? “Wow!”
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. These oils have the same properties and produce the same environmental effects. Here are just a few.
- Harsh physical effects including coating animals and vegetation with oil and causing suffocation due to lack of oxygen
- They are toxic substances that form poisonous products
- Food supplies, breeding animals, and habitats are destroyed by these oils
- They produce horrible odors
- Production of clogged water treatment plants, filthy shorelines and they are at risk of catching fire
- These products deteriorate very, very slowly and cause harm by lingering in the environment for many years
What is FOG
FOG stands for fats, oil, and grease. They come from plants and animal sources and are a by-product of cooking – especially in restaurants which make up the bulk of FOGs clogging waterways and sewer lines. Once they cool, the FOGs harden and cause build-up blocking pipes with foul odors eventually creeping above ground.
FOGs are found in several forms.
- Meat fats
- Cooking oil
- Food scraps
- Baking products
- Dairy products
What happens when you don’t maintain your grease trap?
As you’ve learned, dirty grease traps can cause a host of small and significant problems when they are not maintained properly. Restaurant grease can fill a grease trap very quickly with all the meals cooked and in such a short period.
Backed up commercial grease traps can ruin a restaurant – but more importantly, it can do damage to the city’s sewer system. This problem can affect not only the town but residential homes, neighborhood parks, streets and so much more. It causes flooding, terrible odors, attracts flies and vermin and carries harmful bacteria. Greasy sludge and waste floating around your town is not appealing and can is easily avoided with appropriate grease trap care and cleaning.
Check out this video and see what happens to city sewer lines because of FOGs.
Did you know in some states allow “yellow” grease can be repurposed? Yes, there are mainly two types of FOGs (yellow and brown). The yellow grease or that which comes from vegetable oils can be recycled. Waste vegetable oil recyclers will pay restaurant owners for their yellow grease. After the yellow grease is filtered and dewatered, it is used as fuel for diesel engines.
Yellow grease contains minimal food solids, so no decay or bad odors exist, and it’s considered very valuable to biodiesel manufacturers.
On the other hand, “brown” grease, or grease which comes from animal fats and is not recyclable due to it becoming rancid very quickly, attracting all sorts of foul insects and smelling horrible. This grease is for grease traps, and restaurants must have their traps cleaned and often pumped to remove it and they also must have it professionally processed so as not to allow it into the sewer system.
Sanitary sewer overflow
Sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) is when sewer water is released from a sanitary sewer into the environment before being processed at a wastewater treatment facility. They are a big environmental concern and can contaminate our waters, causing critical water issues, back up into residential homes, causing property damage, and they can also be a hazard to public health. According to Wikipedia, an SSO can occur for a few reasons.
- Blockage of sewer lines
- Inflow of excess stormwater due to heavy rainfall
- Pumping station malfunction or electrical power failure
- Broken sewer lines
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there are at least 23,000 to 75,000 SSOs each year (not including sewage backups into commercial buildings) in the U.S.
When your restaurant grease trap is not cleaned thoroughly or maintained on a regular basis – your trap is at risk for creating blockages, causing backups because of FOGs seeping into the city sewer system.
Commercial grease traps are a big responsibility and when not taken care of can cause significant catastrophes. SSOs can produce gastrointestinal issues, beach closures and restrictions on fish and shellfish consumption. These occurrences used to be third world country problems – however, they are now world-wide problems. And, it’s costly to correct. The EPA states that to upgrade every municipal treatment facility to lessen the frequency of overflows to no more than once every five years would cost about $88 billion (as of 2004).
That’s not all. Did you know that over half of the SSOs in the U.S. are caused by blockages due to FOGs? Yes, it’s true. So, the next time you think to yourself, “Maybe I’ll just skip my grease trap pumping this month.” Don’t.
If you enjoy your sleep and value it – you’ll think twice about ignoring the cleanliness of your commercial grease trap. Just as you are committed to making your customers happy with good food and a pleasant atmosphere – you should be just as committed to keeping your restaurant and grease trap in proper working order and providing a safe place for your employees to do their job. If you’re in need of grease trap cleaning services, reach out to your local, professional septic service company. If you’re in Harford County, Baltimore County, and Cecil County MD, we can help, check out what we can do for you.
We hope you have found this information helpful. Please contact us with any questions or concerns you may have. We offer an array of services for grease trap cleaning and pumping. We’re happy to help you. Give us a call today at 410.838.0046 or send us a message via our contact page.