From giant fatbergs the size of double-decker buses to repeated flood incidents causing untold damage, Britain’s sewers are under attack and the restaurant industry is taking its fair share of the blame. But the very fact that the industry is finally beginning to talk about the subject of fats, oils and grease is the first step on a long journey towards change within commercial kitchens.
FEJ recently caught up with Andy Buchan, divisional managing director at ACO Building Drainage, to discuss the issue and understand more about why kitchens need to care about FOG management. Here is its guide to everything that a restaurant operator might have wondered about FOG but didn’t know.
What is FOG?
FOG is the abbreviation for the fats, oils and grease which are found in the wastewater produced by kitchens. FOG comprises fats, oil, grease created by food debris, fats and oils used in the cooking process, and the washing of food equipment, utensils and crockery.
Why do I need to worry about FOG?
FOG causes blockages in kitchen drainage systems, compromises hygiene, creates unpleasant odours, makes cleaning difficult and costly, can impact upon employee health and safety, and ultimately can stop your commercial kitchen from operating. FOG is also becoming a major issue for Britain’s sewer network, creating ‘fatbergs’ and causing blockages. FOG, combined with the significant use of wet wipes and other non-biodegradable items, is the major cause of sewer blockages.
How big is the problem?
Industry body Water UK says there are 300,000 FOG-related sewer blockages every year in the UK, costing the country around £100m. Thames Water alone estimates it spends £18m per year clearing the 75,000 blockages experienced across its network.
What are the obligations on commercial kitchens?
Every foodservice outlet in the country has a legal obligation to “manage effluent content” under the Water Industry Act (1991). Section 111 of The Water Industry Act (1991) gives water companies the power to bring a criminal proceeding against anyone who causes injury or inhibits the free flow of the sewer network.
What is grease management?
Grease management refers to the use of a range of products and systems which effectively remove FOG from waste water and so prevent the issues which FOG can cause in a kitchen’s drainage system and the wider sewer network.
What grease management solutions are available to prevent FOG from entering my drainage and the wider sewer network?
A wide range of solutions are available including grease separators, grease traps and grease recovery units also known as GRUs. It is important to specify the right grease management solution for your business and, to ensure it continues to operate effectively, to conduct ongoing maintenance.
What are the cost implications of fitting a grease trap?
The initial capital cost of the grease management system that you choose will vary enormously depending on what you purchase. It is important to recognise that there will be regular maintenance and service requirements to ensure that the system remains problem free and provides the performance that you expect. It is worth reviewing this aspect before a purchase is made to understand the ongoing costs and requirements.
Will local authorities/ water companies provide grants to fit one?
It is unlikely that you will get any financial assistance from either your local authority or the local water company responsible for your sewer. We would suggest that you ask your local water company, local Environmental Health Officer or British Water for guidance.
Why are there so many different products and solutions to choose from?
Different types and size of commercial kitchen require different grease management solutions. Your choice of grease management solution will depend on a variety of key specification criteria including the size of your kitchen, the type of food you prepare, the equipment used for food preparation, the contents of your waste water, the density of the FOG produced and the space you have available for the installation of a grease management solution.
3 fatberg facts
- The 130-tonne monster
The largest London fatberg was found in 2017 and weighed a staggering 130 tonnes, the equivalent of two double-decker buses. At 250 metres long it was the size of two football pitches.
- Round-the-clock resource
A team of eight people, working a nine-hour day can remove a maximum of 30 tonnes of fatberg from a blocked sewer.
- Fat-related blockages
Thames Water alone reports an average of three fat-related blockages in its sewers every hour.