Five Must Knows for Kitchen Grease Trap Maintenance

Your grease trap is one of your kitchen’s most valuable assets.

Keeping it properly maintained prevents a whole host of issues, from unpleasant odors to shut-downs and even fines. It’s estimated that across the United States, millions of dollars are spent each year on unclogging sewer pipes from FOG. FOG is an acronym for the fats, oils and greases derived from vegetable, plant or animal sources during cooking. It presents in two different ways; yellow grease results from deep frying, while brown grease contains FOG that floats or settles into solids. Both types pose substantial environmental consequences when fryer oil disposal is performed incorrectly.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the annual production of collected grease trap waste and uncollected grease entering sewage treatment plants can be significant and range from 800 to 17,000 pounds per year, per restaurant. Routinely cleaning and maintaining your fryer equipment and grease traps not only helps keep a kitchen a safe and healthy place to cook, but also helps preserve local waterways. Further, the EPA reports that collection system owners or operators who adopt FOG reduction activities as part of their capacity, management, operation and maintenance program (CMOM) are likely to reduce the occurrence of sewer overflows and improve their operations and customer service.

With so much riding on kitchen grease traps, it’s critical to keep them in prime condition to help restaurants avoid environmental consequences and ensure that they have one less thing to worry about. Here are five must knows for your kitchen grease trap maintenance:  

1. Understanding Grease Traps

A grease trap, sometimes referred to as a grease interceptor, is a plumbing device designed to capture FOG before they enter the wastewater system. There are two primary types of grease traps. Interior traps are usually located in the kitchen near the sink or dishwasher and tend to hold smaller amounts of FOG. Exterior traps are located outside your building, underground and tend to be much larger, holding thousands of gallons. Many cities require grease traps to be used in commercial kitchens due to the critical role they play in preventing costly sewer problems. 

2. Routine Grease Trap Cleaning

A report by the EPA to congress on combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) concluded that grease from restaurants, homes and industrial sources are the most common, accounting for 47 percent of reported blockages. As water from your sink passes through your grease trap, FOG will start to accumulate and make it more difficult for water to drain. This causes the trap to fill up. By having your trap regularly cleaned, you prevent the trap from overflowing and avoid expensive plumbing bills. Regularly cleaning your trap also reduces odors, which can be off-putting to your customers. Experienced service technicians can help prevent grease trap issues before they even have a chance to emerge. 

3. Grease Trap Cleaning Frequency

Cleaning frequency will vary depending on the size of your trap and the amount of grease used in your kitchen. Generally, most cities require restaurants to clean their trap frequently enough to maintain less than 25 percent FOG accumulation. This usually results in cleaning at least once per quarter and sometimes as frequently as once a month. The Greater Augusta Utility District for example, reports that grease trap or interceptor maintenance includes thorough pump-out or cleaning at a minimum frequency of four times per year, or at a greater frequency as determined by an inspector. A local vendor’s grease trap services can help you determine your cleaning frequency after inspecting your grease trap and establish a grease trap maintenance schedule for you.

4. Consequences of Infrequent Grease Trap Cleaning

Failing to clean your trap at the proper interval can be detrimental to your restaurant’s operations. Not only do you increase your risk of smells, but you could also incur additional fees when your trap is not cleaned. FOG hardens as it accumulates, making it more difficult to remove and increasing the time it takes to clean the trap. Cooking fats, oils and grease coat the inside of your pipes and can lead to drainage issues or overflows, indicating that the incoming or outgoing line is likely clogged. Depending on where the clog is, it’s possible you’ll need to contact a plumber to clear out the lines. Overflows also put you at risk of being fined by the city. 

Most vendors will charge overage fees if your cleaning takes significantly longer than expected due to a frequency lapse. While decreasing your cleaning frequency may seem like an easy way to save money, it usually ends up costing more in the long run.

5. The Grease Trap Cleaning Process

When a service technician arrives to clean your traps, they’ll use a pump to remove the contents, and scrape the sides to remove any accumulated FOG. They’ll also measure the contents to determine how much FOG has accumulated since your last cleaning. If your accumulation measures more than 25 percent, you may be asked to reassess your cleaning frequency.

Once your trap has been completely pumped out, the technician should complete a FOG report noting the details of your service and provide you with a copy. Some cities require copies of FOG reports once the grease trap cleaning process is complete and many vendors can submit this for you. 

Maintaining your grease trap is an important part of managing your restaurant and there are important steps you can take to control FOG. Preventing environmental consequences, lengthy cleaning processes and added costs will ultimately foster a safe and productive environment for both your employees and customers. The best way to avoid issues with your grease trap is to establish a regular service schedule with a professional pumper.