Matthew Marble is business unit manager for NSF Intl. Water Systems – Plumbing Div. Marble can be reached at [email protected].
The negative effects of fats, oil and grease (FOG) are being experienced across the globe, from sewer-clogging “fatbergs” in London and Baltimore, to massive sewage overflows on the streets of Miami, to one Canadian town suing a restaurant for sewer damages caused by grease. These problems—and, ultimately, how to prevent them—were the focus of our recent FOG Conference at NSF Intl., which was attended by property owners, manufacturers, municipal representatives and other stakeholders. Whether you’re a restaurant owner, engineer or city sewer inspector, the information presented at the second annual conference can be highly beneficial. Here are 10 key takeaways:
- Don’t assume information is common knowledge. Every presenter seemed to start with his or her own version of “FOG 101,” which illustrates an important point: You don’t know what you don’t know. Stakeholders with different experience levels and from different industries and geographic areas likely will have different perspectives on FOG. Similarly, workers at food service establishments of all experience levels need regular training on FOG; many sewer agencies, in fact, require restaurants to keep log sheets documenting continued employee training, and most require annual refresher training, according to the National Restaurant Assn. Making sure everyone is working from the same base knowledge ensures innovative solutions can be reached collaboratively. If you know something, share it.
- Networking is important. The feedback we received most? “More time for networking!” While it is important to hear presentations from experts in the field, it can be just as beneficial to have a discussion. If you are facing a FOG-related problem, chances are someone else has dealt with something similar. By sharing solutions and creating a network of like-minded individuals, problems can be solved more quickly.
- Get the information to those who need it most. Restaurant owners and property managers were underrepresented at the conference, yet these are two of the groups that need the information the most and are positioned to make the biggest difference. Restaurants are the biggest producers of FOG, with an average fast-food eatery producing some 10,000 lb per year. FOG prevention and equipment maintenance can be seen as a costly hassle if you own or manage a restaurant, but that brings me to the next point.
- The cost of doing nothing is high. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This adage is particularly true in the plumbing industry, and the conference gave us many examples to prove it. By not correctly installing and maintaining a certified, properly sized grease interceptor to save money today, you could be spending tens of thousands of dollars tomorrow. A restaurant in Dorval, QC, Canada, for example, was sued by the city for a $10,000 sewer cleanup bill after city officials said the eatery’s grease-collection equipment was not working properly and clogged the city sewer.
- Solids separation is key. Absent from the FOG acronym is the “S” for solids, as one conference presenter noted. Food solids—such as leftover scraps washed down the drain—can have a negative impact on a grease interceptors efficiency and capacity if not properly managed. The National Restaurant Assn. recommends scraping all extra grease and food scraps off plates and cookware before they get rinsed in the sink or run through the dishwasher.
- There is no magic pill. Several presentations focused on the fact that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for every problem. Every food service establishment poses a unique challenge based on geography, size and type of food served. The manager of a national Italian chain restaurant may face much different challenges than the owner of a local sandwich shop. Creating a solution that suits your individual needs is imperative.
- Sustainability is critical. It might not be immediately apparent, but FOG prevention and sustainability go hand-in-hand. The amount of energy needed to treat FOG once it gets into the sewers is substantial, as London discovered in dealing with a 130-ton fatberg. By dealing with FOG at the source before it becomes a problem, you can prevent energy waste, sewer overflows and costly repairs in the future.
- Get everyone on board. The restaurant, property manager and employees can do everything right, but if the waste is not being properly disposed of, problems will persist. Including companies that are responsible for pumping and disposing of FOG in the discussion is crucial. Look for companies that emphasize the recycling or rendering of FOG as part of a larger sustainability mission. Further, sewer agencies typically require that all FOG haulers provide the restaurant a copy of the pumping manifest prior to departing the business and that the restaurateur maintain copies.
- Monitoring is important. Being proactive with the maintenance of your FOG removal device is one of the keys to successful FOG remediation. Purchasing a certified grease interceptor with an integral monitoring device or installing a monitoring device on an existing interceptor is a great way to know when you have reached your grease interceptor’s capacity and it’s time for maintenance. Without a monitoring device or alarm on the grease interceptor, businesses have to be extra vigilant in watching FOG capacity—or face the prospect of a foul-smelling sewer backup.
- Thirst for knowledge. This is an industry that wants to know how to do things the correct way. Proper FOG remediation is particularly important with aging sewer infrastructure and lower sewer flow rates that are better for the environment but potentially more challenging for FOG discharge. Spreading the word about these and other issues raised at our recent FOG conference is an important first step toward making sure the information reaches as many stakeholders as possible.