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November 2009
MAINTENANCE TIPS

Who's Minding Your Grease Trap?

Tighter regulations call for vigilance when it comes to cleaning and monitoring indoor FOG interception methods.

By Michael Romico

There was a time when some facilities managers cared more about not clogging their indoor plumbing lines with fats, oils and grease than the damage FOG was doing once it left the building.

Things have changed. As state and federal guidelines have tightened, many are now facing stiffer penalties for passing FOG into municipal sewage systems.

So paying attention to units that collect, intercept or otherwise control the flow of FOG before it leaves your units is more important than ever, and so is awareness of how to care for this equipment. To get the low-down on FOG system maintenance we talked with two makers of grease interceptors.

But first, an equipment review. With few if any moving parts, gravity grease interceptors and hydromechanical grease traps seem easy to use. Typically, water from three-basin sinks is diverted into a grease trap chamber. FOG, which is lighter than water, floats to the top of the chamber where it is retained; the remaining water flows through an outlet. Hydromechanical units add flow-control devices and internal baffles to speed separation. These units require regular manual cleaning and can be susceptible to malfunctioning if allowed to fill to capacity.

Another option, the automatic grease removal device, generally employs skimmers and heating units that manually separate oils and grease and keep them heated to maintain fluidity. FOG is swept toward a separate part of the main chamber while grease-free water flows out. Some units include strainers that catch larger food particles before they enter the chamber, and timers that keep the units operating at intervals.

Start With Awareness, Training
Indoor grease interceptors—installed as they are under sinks—are easy to overlook and even neglect. But experts say that with awareness and vigilance, your cleaning schedules, procedures and training should fall into place.

Bill Batten, president of Big Dipper Thermaco in Asheboro, N.C., offered us maintenance tips based on mistakes he's seen in the field. For example, he recounted a visit to a fast-food unit where he found a grease interceptor full of pure, yellow grease. Employees had been pouring fryer grease down the drain instead of braving the cold and dumping it into outdoor collection containers. "That's death for the plumbing system," Batten says.

So one of his top tips is to make sure staffers are aware of how grease interceptors should work and be maintained. And while it can be a messy job, cleaning must be put on a regular schedule.

Batten says a typical fast-food unit may produce 7 lbs. to 10 lbs. of grease daily. With a 40-lb. grease trap, regular maintenance will be required every five days or less. Go longer than five days and you're risking blockage or failure,
he says.

You also must be aware of how grease is handled at every stage, from cooking to cleaning of cookware, utensils and dishware, says Batten. At every step employees can do their part to reduce the amount of FOG that finds its way to a drain.

Doug Fryett, owner and CEO of Goslyn Environmental Systems in McKinney, Texas, agrees. He says operators need to be aware of how FOG moves through facilities. One easy way to reduce FOG flow is to make sure kitchen staffers consistently scrape dishware and cookware of excessive grease before washing.

Fryett says daily maintenance is required for interceptors, such as those from Goslyn, that have food-solids strainers. "You've got to constantly make sure that basket is emptied. If it's clogged with food the unit will not operate efficiently," he says.

Another frequent task is to manually clean various valves common to most units. Inflow and outflow valves should be cleaned with a bottle brush, he says, and no cleansers are needed. A solid scrubbing once a week or so will do the trick.

And then there are the simple things that often are overlooked. Fryett once visited a restaurant where an interceptor had been properly installed but left unplugged. A heating element in some brands maintains a high enough temperature, about 110[deg]F, to keep FOG from solidifying. "That unit had been left unplugged for two or three years and it was the biggest mess you've ever seen," he says. So naturally Fryett advises managers to make sure units with heating elements are plugged in.

Cleaning Steps Reviewed
With hydromechanical units, Batten says kitchen staff should empty grease containers into rendering barrels. While larger units usually hire grease collection companies to siphon their accumulated FOG, Batten says operators with smaller units can use a wet-vac and do it themselves. However, this task should only be done after business hours because the suctioning of fats creates a strong odor plume.

Automatic grease removal devices have become widely popular because of the automated features that simplify cleaning. But they add a few extra and critical maintenance steps. Wiping blades used to skim grease inside the units should be cleaned with a paper towel every few weeks. The blades generally have a lifespan of between one and five years depending on volume of use, Batten says.

Unlike passive units that need to be suctioned regularly, automatic grease removal devices should be suctioned quarterly or perhaps semi-annually, says Batten. Special attention should be paid to fine sediment or silt that accumulates at the bottom of the units. Sediment can be dislodged by a water flush and then swept or suctioned away.

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