SPECIAL REPORT: Why is the issue of FOG so cloudy for restaurant operators?

Better industry training around FOG is required, say experts.

Water and sewerage companies in the UK respond to approximately 366,000 sewer blockages every year, many of which are compounded by poor practice or substandard solutions in commercial foodservice operations. So it’s no surprise that stakeholders from within the industry continue to look for new ways to counter an issue that has far-reaching consequences.

Earlier this year, FOG solution providers pledged to develop an accreditation-based trade association called the Grease Contractors’ Association (GCA) to help solve the problem of managing grease disposal. Founded in association with British Water, the body has pledged to be the voice of specifiers, installers and maintainers of grease management systems.

British Water believes the GCA will help raise industry standards and professionalism by developing best practice in the specification, installation and maintenance of grease management systems. This should also provide a forum for discussion on non-competitive issues and provide information to assist operators in their business, while bringing clarity and transparency to the market.

fog-kitchen

Authorities deal with 366,000 sewer blockages every year.

The GCA has been formed as a not-for-profit organisation with the immediate task of developing a Code of Practice which will cover service requirements, waste management, site evaluation, and health, safety and hygiene in grease management in food establishments. It intends to lead the drive from qualitative to quantitative standards in the medium term, and influence these to be technology-inclusive. The ultimate goal is to influence legislation by providing practical knowledge and scientific evidence to act as the base of new regulations.

The Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) has been directly involved in this development and, according to chairman, Simon Frost: “The work continues, and a recent workshop engaged key stakeholders to plan the strategy for future work. At the workshop it was agreed that FOG should be given value as a resource. For example, McDonald’s uses cooking oils and waste from grease traps to power its trucks.”

“If as an industry we all do our part — from manufacturer to the staff member in the kitchen — that monitors the equipment, the issue becomes manageable”

Frost feels that the FOG problem in drainage could be eased by developing the existing EN 1825 standard to be more representative of the needs relating to the treatment of FOG, and to review the British Water Code of Practice. “We also need to engage a wider community of industry representatives in the issue,” he says.

While manufacturer Mechline is not part of the current GCA, the firm would certainly be keen to be involved if the group were to expand to include manufacturers of dosing units.

greasepak

Mechline’s GreasePak system.

Marketing manager Kristian Roberts explains: “At Mechline we certainly feel that the introduction of the group could lead to one voice creating dialogue outside of our inner circle and the improvement of industry standards. The association is great news for grease management — a positive step towards the common goal of educating, sharing and promoting consistency throughout the industry when it comes to tackling FOG.”

Giovanni Brienza, VP at Frontline International, a US-based manufacturer of grease management and handling equipment, agrees that greater unity within the industry will give weight to the larger message that all customers need to hear. “I have seen some horrendous things dumped down drains,” he says.

“The cost is debilitating to a business. And the environmental impact is of grave concern. I have seen firsthand the effect of a secondary resale market where grease is pulled from sewers and re-processed and re-sold right back to unwitting restaurateurs. This would have been shocking a century ago, but it’s still happening.”

Mechline believes that British Water’s FOG Code of Practice, released last year, was a welcome addition to the industry as a whole. “Legislation and regulations exist surrounding grease management measures being put into place, which we are now seeing enforced by water companies and environmental health inspectors,” comments Roberts.

Aluline’s grease trap and Aluzyme dosing system.

Aluline’s grease trap and Aluzyme dosing system.

“However, the guidance which measures the suitability of an individual kitchen’s needs may still not be firm on everyone’s minds. Clarity has come in the shape of the FOG Code of Practice, but being of such a specialist nature our dealers, water companies, foodservice establishments and others still need advice on their options and how to get it right when it comes to FOG management.”

First Choice Environmental Solutions is also following GCA developments closely, even though it is not a member. Project manager, Martin Allen, agrees it is a good idea to bring together competency and expertise to improve the way the industry tackles the issue of fats, oils and grease.

“The GCA will also benefit the industry by offering an experienced and professionally unbiased viewpoint, looking at all the various problem areas by site surveying and identifying the best solutions from the operational and environmental standpoint.”

“Bad habits are the biggest issue when it comes to drainage blockages and misuse”

However, not everyone is so convinced by the new group. GreaseShield system provider, Environmental Products & Services (EPAS), does not think the GCA will benefit the industry and isn’t a member. EPAS’ UK and export sales manager, Gareth O’Neill, comments: “Currently the membership is made up of grease equipment manufacturers and service companies who will serve to protect their own interests and not provide a cost-effective solution to the customers.”

EPAS is working with the European FOG Association to develop international standards and accreditation around the performance of grease management to produce a standard for the industry to work to. “The first grease product test rig to test to European and USA standards has been established in Stockport,” says O’Neill.

William Clark, MD of grease trap manufacturer Aluline, agrees: “The FOG debate has too many vested interest parties all trying to gain financial incentive. The actual concept of the GCA is sound, however the ‘experts’ are divided as to financial advantage.”

Better industry training around FOG is required, say experts. Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images.

When it comes to possible solutions to the FOG problem, associations and manufacturers are again divided. “There is not a ‘one system fits all’ solution — a combination of bio remediation, grease removal unit and passive grease trap maximises the opportunity to eliminate the problem of FOG entering the sewer,” argues Simon Frost.

Back at Mechline, it has been working alongside UK water companies to put to the test and showcase its biological dosing unit, GreasePak. The aim of this combined effort is to ensure a consistent message and a fair share of information, making all the viable options available.

Roberts details: “At present our GreasePak is the only BBA-approved dosing unit. How do we know that any of the other dosing unit fluids available in the marketplace are effective? Some biological dosing fluids have been described as glorified washing up liquid! Mechline would urge people to check and clarify the strength and efficacy of the system and the biological product that they are purchasing. GreasePak fluid has eight different bacteria strains with over 500m colony-forming bacteria per gram.”

He acknowledges that there is no silver bullet solution to FOG, and believes that on a wider scale the answer lies with collaboration. “If as an industry we all do our part — from manufacturer to the staff member in the kitchen that monitors the equipment — the issue becomes manageable.

EPAS' GreaseShield.

EPAS’ GreaseShield.

“The key is training, training and training. Educate the end users — hearts and minds. Bad habits are the biggest issue when it comes to drainage blockages and misuse. Create a progressive culture and promote buy-in. Making FOG management part of processes and procedures alongside hygiene and safety, raising the profile and internal compliance will help to embed it into the working routine.”

Frontline is even making it easy to earn money from the re-sale of waste oils should more incentive be needed. “We developed a web-based data management system that allows customers to track and monitor oil usage data and filtration at all stores and also control their profits from waste oil sales,” says Giovanni Brienza.

Over at First Choice, Allen cautions that in many instances the consequences of FOG can be dealt with, but the problem can never be fully eradicated. “Many knowledgeable people in this field would argue that it is almost impossible to completely remove the FOG problem and that careful management from creation to disposal is the key factor,” he says.
Elsewhere, EPAS’ O’Neill believes the issue of fats, oils and grease in the drainage network can be solved by installing effective grease management equipment at the point of source that can connect to sinks, dishwashers, combi ovens and floor drains: “Utilising equipment that is correctly sized, installed and maintained — and is accredited and certificated to international standards — will lead to the reduction of FOG discharged to drain.”

Whatever solution operators choose, the authorities have their fingers crossed that greater clarity and education of the subject will eventually lead to the alarming rate of sewer blockages becoming fewer in number and less expensive to rectify. Ultimately, it is the operators themselves that will make the real difference through improved behaviour and kitchen practices.

Fats, oils and grease

  • Blockages account for 80% of sewer flooding incidents in the UK.
  • There are approximately 366,000 sewer blockages throughout the UK every year, of which up to 80% are caused by fats, oils and grease and other unflushable items.
  • Approximately £88m is spent annually on reactive blockage clearance nationwide, with further costs for clean-up after flooding incidents.
  • Through sewer flooding, FOG build-up is indirectly responsible for many cases of property damage and pollution incidents.
    Source: water.org.uk
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