Food Service Operations
Fats, oils and grease are a natural byproduct of food service operations, which can include restaurants, cafeterias in office buildings, catering businesses and church kitchens. However, when fats, oils and grease are disposed improperly, it can wreak havoc on food service drains and sewer pipes. The worst outcome is a sewer line back up, creating rancid odors, expensive cleanup and repair, potential contact with disease causing organisms and higher operating costs.
To avoid this problem, entities that provide food service must keep and maintain a grease trap or interceptor, a plumbing device designed to intercept most fats, grease and solids before they enter the main sewer line. Grease traps capture grease from the wastewater flow, slow down the flow of hot greasy water, and allow it to cool.
Without a well-maintained grease trap, greasy water goes into your building’s sewer line and out into the city sewer, coating the pipes with grease along the way. Over time, that grease hardens to form a clog – especially in places where the pipe turns or is dented – which causes the sewer to back up into the closest building. That could be your food service operation, or your neighbor’s flower shop down the street.
As the water cools, the grease separates and floats to the top of the trap while the water flows down the pipe into the sewer. It is proven that grease traps catch more than 95 percent of all float-able substances, including fats, oils, greases, soaps and waxes.
Fats, Oils and Grease Ordinance
On August 17, 2017, the City of Abilene passed a new fats, oil, and grease (FOG) ordinance for all food service businesses. The ordinance was created to address the ongoing problem the City is having with grease in its sewer system.
In order to protect public health, the sanitary sewer system, and the environment, this ordinance sets forth uniform requirements. The food service industry must follow these guidelines for fats, oils, and grease (FOG). This further includes grease trap waste transporters operating in the City of Abilene. It also enables the City to comply with all applicable State and Federal laws, including the Clean Water Act (33 United States Code S 1251 et seq.).
What Lead to the FOG Ordinance?
The first half of 2017 (Jan-June) we had 24 sanitary sewer overflows, 20 of those caused by grease. If we don’t cool it with all the fats, oil and grease, Abilene will be headed toward a DRAINWRECK. These overflows create a large, stenchy mess in our roadways and lead to road closures. Closed roads prevent traffic from visiting businesses and affect commute times for residents. Finally, sewer overflows are expensive to fix – not just for the City, but for local businesses and residents.
How Does FOG Affect Business?
So what does this ordinance mean for your business? The good news – if you are already pumping grease regularly and have trip manifest records onsite, nothing. You are in compliance and it will be business as usual. But for those food service businesses that are not, it is now a requirement. From now on, the City of Abilene will be doing random inspections. Businesses that are in violation of the ordinance will have an opportunity for voluntary compliance – an option period to correct the violations. If violations are found during the follow up inspection and with any future inspections, a minimum fine of $1,000 will be issued. The amount and course of action by the City is dependent on the severity of the violations. Extreme issues can even result in a stop work order.
Steps for Compliance
To comply, determine what type of grease trap you have. Large grease traps must be pumped every 90 days or more often if necessary. Small grease traps must be pumped every 30 days or more often if necessary. If you’re already cleaning within these frequencies, keep doing what you’re doing. If you are cleaning less often, then you need to start cleaning within these frequencies. After two cleaning cycles at these frequencies, if your grease trap is not meeting the 25% rule, you may request an extension to the cleaning frequency. The 25% rule is generally met when the grease layer is 5-6 inches thick for large traps and 2 inches thick for small grease traps. Documentation of the depth of the grease layer for each of the two cleanings must be provided with your request. There is also an optional section on the request form if you would like to include cleaning recommendations from your transporter.
The ordinance also requires that businesses keep a copy of the manifest from each cleaning on-site for five years. If your business sends the manifests to another location, like a corporate office, be sure to keep a copy for your site.
For more information, please contact the City of Abilene FOG Program at 325-437-4505.
Grease Traps 101
The City of Abilene has experienced a large number of sanitary sewer overflows (SSO’s) for the past few years. An SSO results from a clog or blockage in the sewer line. When the line is clogged, the sewage must go somewhere and so it overflows to the next available outlet—a sink, manhole, dishwasher, etc. Most of the SSO’s have been due to Fats, Oils, & Grease (FOG) in the sewer. In the photo at right, grease from a restaurant has overflowed outside. It can not only kill the grass and harm the environment, but kill a restaurant’s budget.
What is a Grease Trap?
A grease trap is a device that separates grease and solids from wastewater before it enters the sanitary sewer. Grease traps are installed as part of the plumbing at food service facilities such as restaurants and cafeterias.
There are two types of grease traps:
- Large grease traps (more than 50 gal.) are usually located outside and typically have manhole type lids.
- Small grease traps (50 gal. or less) are much smaller and are often located indoors under the three-compartment sink.
They both operate essentially the same way. Dirty, greasy water from kitchen sinks, dishwashers, etc. goes into the grease trap along with any food scraps that get washed down the drain. The mixture separates into three layers as it cools. Food scraps and solids sink to the bottom, grease floats to the top, and water ends up in the middle. As the grease layer and solids layer build up, the water goes through a series of baffles and eventually to the outlet of the trap. See the diagram below.
Some facilities also have a holding tank to recycle used frying oil, but this is NOT a grease trap since it’s not connected to the sewer system.
Why are Grease Traps Necessary?
Without a grease trap, grease and food scraps go directly into the private sewer line, which then connects to the public sanitary sewer system. Over time, grease coats the inside of these pipes and forms a clog. When a sewer line becomes clogged, it’s an expensive cleanout for a restaurant and the City of Abilene!
Grease Trap Maintenance
In order for a grease trap to function properly, it must be cleaned regularly. When the grease layer inside the trap gets too thick, grease will start to leave the trap with the water since there’s no more room for it to remain in the trap. When the grease leaves the trap, it coats the pipes and eventually forms a clog, which will lead to a backup or overflow of sewage. Likewise, if the solids are not cleaned out regularly, they will also contribute to potential problems. Food scraps and other solids will eventually begin to decompose and give off a gas called hydrogen sulfide or H2S. The H2S forms sulfuric acid when it mixes with the water. Eventually, the acid will eat a hole in the pipes or even the grease trap itself. Keeping the trap clean can prevent overflow and costly repairs.
Good Kitchen Practices
Cool It. Can It. Trash It! applies to businesses as well as residents. One way to keep pump out frequencies to a minimum is to reduce the amount of grease and food scraps going into the trap in the first place.
- Make sure your employees are not pouring oil or grease down the drain (including floor drains).
- Scrape food scraps into the trash.
- Wipe greasy pans and dishes with a paper towel before putting them in the sink or dishwasher.
- Use a sink strainer in the drain to catch smaller bits of food.
By following good kitchen practices and maintaining your grease trap, you can avoid costly repairs and clean up from a backup or overflow.
Pros & Cons of Small Grease Traps
Small grease traps are often favored because they have little up front cost and take up less room than the large grease traps. In some situations, this may be the only option. However, many facilities are simply looking at the initial cost and don’t realize that a smaller grease trap is going to require more time and maintenance in order for it to function efficiently. Small grease traps are usually less effective than large traps for one or more of the following reasons.
- The flow control device is not present. This device restricts the flow of water leaving the trap so that the grease has time to cool and separate. However, by restricting the flow, the drain time from the sink is also slowed down, which is inconvenient in a busy restaurant. Without a flow control device, the grease is simply flushed through the trap along with the water.
- It is not cleaned often enough. A smaller grease trap fills up faster than a larger one and will therefore need to be cleaned more frequently. Odor also becomes a problem since most small grease traps are located indoors.
- It is too small to remove the grease generated by the facility. While a small grease trap may work well for a small, quiet coffee shop, it may be completely overloaded by a busy greasy food place. The greasy food place would have to spend quite a bit of time and effort to keep a small grease trap working efficiently.
Because of these issues, many cities are phasing out small grease traps.
Choosing the Best Grease Trap for Your Food Business
Replacing an old grease trap for your restaurant? Or will you be one of the many new additions to the City of Abilene? A grease trap is about much more than just price. When choosing the best grease trap for your food service operations, you also have to consider available space, who will perform maintenance – at what cost – and many other factors.
Without a well-maintained grease trap, greasy water goes into your building’s sewer line and out into the city sewer, coating the pipes with grease along the way. Over time, that grease hardens to form a clog – especially in places where the pipe turns or is dented – which causes the sewer to back up. That could be inside your restaurant or your neighbor’s flower shop down the street.
There are two types of grease traps:
- Small Grease Traps (50 gallons or less). These are typically attached to the drain beneath the three-compartment sink and must be cleaned by a licensed transporter at least every 30 days.
- Large Grease Traps (more than 50 gallons). These are usually located outside and have manhole type lids. They must be cleaned by a licensed transporter at least every 90 days.
Falling behind on trap maintenance allows food scraps at the bottom of the grease trap to begin to decompose, giving off a gas called hydrogen sulfide. When that gas mixes with water, you’ve got sulfuric acid, a strong corrosive that destroys pipes and concrete. When that happens, you’re looking at a hefty price tag for a new grease trap, as well as repairs to pipes and infrastructure.
It’s important to consider all of the pros and cons of large and small grease trap options before choosing the best grease trap for you and your business.
Small Grease Traps
Pros: These traps are affordable, don’t take up much space, and are easy to install.
Cons: The downside of small grease traps is that they are usually located inside, which means the smell is also inside if it’s not cleaned regularly. Let maintenance slide, and you’ve not only got a smelly mess, you’ve got a grease trap that is no longer doing it’s job, resulting in costly plumbing problems. To work efficiently, these units must have a flow control device, which gives hot greasy water time to cool and separate. This can cause slow drainage during high-volume times, which can slow down your kitchen during peak hours.
Large Grease Traps
Pros: Large grease traps don’t usually need to be cleaned as often as small grease traps. They have a longer hold time, which allows for more efficient separation of grease and water. Plus, most of them are typically located outside, so odors stay outside where they belong and your guests smell only one thing – your delicious food!
Cons: Large grease traps require more space and must be accessible by a transporter and their truck. They cost more up-front than a small trap and installation is a bit more involved, as one would expect.
The Small Grease Trap: Pro’s and Con’s
Before choosing a small grease trap for your food service facility, it is important to understand the cons and how they may affect your kitchen’s efficiency.
Small grease traps that reside under the sink are often favored because they have little upfront cost and take up less room than the larger outdoor grease traps. In some cases, they may be the only option due to space availability. However, many don’t realize that a smaller grease trap requires more time and maintenance for it to function efficiently. It is important to understand that these small grease traps can be less effective than a large trap for at least one of the following reasons.
- Issues with the flow control device. This device restricts the flow of water leaving the trap, to allow the grease time to cool and separate. However this results in slower drain time, which can be very inconvenient for a busy restaurant. If the flow control device is removed, the grease simply flushes through the trap with the water and enters the sewer system.
- It is not cleaned often enough. A smaller grease trap fills up faster and will need to be cleaned more frequently than a larger grease trap. Small grease traps must be cleaned every 30 days or more often if necessary. If the grease layer is 2” thick before the 30 days is up, then the trap needs to be cleaned more often. Unfortunately, due to the odor when opening and cleaning the grease trap, it will be necessary to do it after hours or early enough for the smell to dissipate.
- It is too small to remove the grease generated by the facility. While a small grease trap may work well for a small, quiet coffee shop, it may be completely overloaded by a busy greasy bacon place, which would have to spend quite a bit of time and money to keep the trap clean.
If you are still undecided whether a small or large grease trap would be best for your business for the long-term, contact the City of Abilene FOG (Fats, Oil and Grease) Program at 325-437-4505.
Maintaining Your Grease Trap
Maintaining your restaurant’s grease trap or grease interceptor is a must for proper operation, and is required by the City of Abilene FOG Ordinance.
Cleaning a grease trap involves vacuuming all the contents, scraping built up grease on the walls, and sucking up the remainder while rinsing with a pressure washer. This cleaning process should be done on large grease traps every 90 days or more frequently if needed. Small grease traps should be cleaned every 30 days or when the grease layer reaches 2″ thick. Trip tickets – which verify who generated the grease, when the trap was cleaned, who cleaned it, how much was pumped out, when and where the grease was disposed of from each cleanout – must be maintained on-site for five years.
Pump Out Frequency
The pump out frequency is how often the grease trap needs to be cleaned so that it functions effectively. This will vary depending on the size of the grease trap, number of meals served, grease content of food, etc.
According to the FOG Ordinance,
- Large grease traps must be cleaned at least every 90 days by a licensed transporter
- Small grease traps must be cleaned at least every 30 days, also by a licensed transporter.
- Some facilities may need to clean more often.
Your grease trap needs to be cleaned when the depth of the grease layer plus the depth of the solids layer is 25% of the depth of all three layers. The depth of the solids layer can be difficult to determine without a sampling tube, so it may be easier to check the depth of the grease layer with a rod or stick. Generally, when the grease layer is 5-6 inches thick in a large grease trap (2 inches for under-sink traps), the 25% rule has been met. If this amount of grease is accumulating long before the next scheduled pump out, then the trap needs to be cleaned more often.
Extensions to the Pumping Frequency
If your food facility hasn’t met the 25% rule for two cycles at the minimum frequency, then you can request an extension to the pumping frequency. Requests will be reviewed and granted on a case by case basis. You will be required to provide documentation that the 25% rule has not been met for each of the two cleaning cycles. This is generally done by photographing the depth of the grease layer with a ruler or other appropriate scale in the photograph. Download the Request for Extension to Cleaning Frequency form and be sure to include your documentation so that it may be handled without delay.
Alternate Cleaning Schedules for Seasonal Facilities
For seasonal facilities or irregular usage such as concession stands, event venues, church kitchens, etc., an alternate schedule may be developed that will be appropriate for that facility. To request an alternate schedule, complete and return the Alternate Cleaning Schedule Request form, which will be handled on a case by case basis.
Other Maintenance Tips
- Recycle used fry oil. Considered a valuable commodity, some renderers may even pay you for it.
- Wipe the grease off of pans with a dry paper towel before running them under water. And, the prewashing station and dishwasher must drain into a grease trap.
- Scrape excess food off of pots, pans, and plates and throw it away. Don’t use the garbage disposal in the sink. When food scraps decompose in the grease trap, they release acids that eat through the walls of the grease trap, drastically reducing it’s lifespan.
Using A Trip Ticket to Track Waste Removal
Whether your food service business has a large or small grease trap, keeping it clean is a city and state requirement. A clean grease trap helps prevent sewer back-ups, costly repairs and closures. Transporters with a current Sludge license from TCEQ* are the only ones that can legally pump and transport grease trap waste.
Grease trap waste is tracked by a multi-part manifest called a trip ticket. Trip tickets document the amount of waste and where it came from, who transported it, and where the waste was disposed.
Trip tickets must be kept on-site for 5 years and be readily available in the event of an inspection. A trip ticket is started when the transporter pumps out the grease trap. First, the generator and transporter information is completed and a copy is given to the generator. Next, the waste is taken to the disposal site. The disposal site representative will complete their section of the trip ticket and keep their copy. The transporter will also get a copy and will then return a final copy, called a completed trip ticket, to the generator. The generator now has two copies of the trip ticket. The first copy shows what waste left their site and the completed trip ticket shows where and how it was disposed. If your facility sends trip tickets to a different location, such as a corporate office, be sure to make copies to keep on-site first.
In-ground grease traps should be cleaned and serviced every 90 days, or more often if needed to retain grease waste and keep it out of the city’s sewer system. Under sink traps need to be cleaned every 30 days or when the grease layer reaches 2” thick. The transporters track the journey of liquid waste from your facility to an authorized disposal site using a trip ticket, in accordance with City Ordinance. Here’s how the process works:
- When a liquid waste transporter comes to your business to clean your grease trap, you’ll receive a copy of a multi-copy, five-part trip ticket form that identifies your business as the generator and the hauler as the transporter, and notes how many gallons are being transported.
- After pumping out your grease trap, the hauler will transport the waste to the disposal site, note on the form that the trip is complete, and provide a copy to the receiving facility.
- The waste hauler will provide a copy of the final trip ticket to your business.
You’ll need to keep a copy of the trip ticket on-site at your business as proof of service, but before you file it away, be sure to check that all areas of the form are correct and complete.
Pumping Frequency Forms
Extensions to the Pumping Frequency
If you haven’t met the 25% rule for two cycles at the minimum frequency, then you can request an extension to the pumping frequency. Requests will be reviewed and granted on a case by case basis. You will be required to provide documentation that the 25% rule has not been met for each of the two cleaning cycles. This is generally done by photographing the depth of the grease layer with a ruler or other appropriate scale in the photograph. Download the form from the link below. Be sure to include your documentation so that it may be handled without delay.
Alternate Cleaning Schedules for Seasonal/Irregular Usage Facilities
For seasonal facilities or facilities with irregular usage such as concession stands, event venues, church kitchens, etc., an alternate schedule may be developed that will be appropriate for that facility. Download the form from the link below. Alternate schedules will be handled on a case by case basis.
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