Fat, oil and grease (FOG) suspended in water, congeal as they cool and harden. By disposing of FOG down the sink or drain, caterers not only risk the possibility of their businesses closing if drains get blocked but also risk receiving an expensive bill from the water company as well as potential legal action.
In 2016, Severn Trent successfully prosecuted a Codsall restaurant in a ‘landmark case’ for blocking the sewers with fat, oil and grease – which led to nearby businesses being unable to flush their toilets.
Café Saffron in Church Rd, Codsall, was prosecuted and ordered to pay a total of £5,495, including costs, at Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court. In this case, blockages had been reported on several occasions, with complaints from neighbouring businesses that they couldn’t flush their toilets. The restaurant was found to be the cause of the blockage with fat used in cooking being put down the drain and into the sewer where it coagulated and caused the blockages. Severn Trent visited the premises on several occasions, sent various letters and had many conversations with the restaurant owners, asking for grease traps to be installed and warning of the consequences, but the owners refused, resulting in a prosecution.
A block of Fat Oil and Grease (FOG) the size of a bus and nicknamed “The fatberg”, hit the headlines in 2013, fortunately, the lardy lump was removed before it had the chance to clog the sewer entirely and spill sewage into hundreds of local resident and commercial properties. Each year around 7000 premises in London alone are less fortunate, experiencing the unpleasant effects of FOG blocked sewers first hand.
Whilst your business may have Used Cooking Oil collections, you could still be unknowingly contributing to these fatbergs by allowing the fat and oil washed off dirty plates and pans to enter the sewer. Not only is this illegal under the Water Industry Act 1991; it puts restaurants at risk of service disruption, odours, public health issues and increased costs which result from blockages. It will also make you very unpopular with your neighbours should you be responsible for filling their homes with raw sewage!
With so many products and services available, it is difficult for SME’s to know what is required and what will be effective. The ‘Best Management Practice for Catering Establishments’ produced by Water UK advises that catering businesses should regularly empty and maintain underground grease interceptors. The regularity of emptying and maintenance will be determined by the capacity/size of the interceptor, the type of cuisine and volume of meals served. The material can be removed by vacuum tanker and disposed of at a licenced facility. It is common for Environmental Health Officers to ask for the paperwork associated with disposal (waste transfer notice, receipts)
Waste cooking oil – the facts you need to know
Caterers need to arm themselves with the facts when it comes to cooking oil disposal.
As of 1991, the Water Industry Act made it a legal duty for all catering businesses to ensure waste oil is stored and disposed of correctly. This was put in place to prevent large quantities of waste oil from being disposed of down drains.
It is still a commonly-held myth in the industry that, if a main drain or sewer gets blocked, it is the water company that picks up the bill for unblocking and repair. This is not the case. If a drain is blocked within the boundary of a business, it is often the business owner who ends up footing the bill.
The Building Act of 1984 gave local authorities the power to ensure that all businesses maintain their own drainage systems. If a drainage problem persists and is reported to a local authority a formal notice to a business will be served to repair and unblock the drain and a repair bill will be issued.
Caterers need also to be aware that vermin love used cooking oil. If stored incorrectly, the smell of used cooking oil affects the sex hormone in rats and acts as an aphrodisiac which can lead to pest infestation.
Best practice for handling waste cooking oil
Here are some useful guidelines all catering businesses should follow:
• Train your staff on why it is important to keep FOG and food waste out of drains and sewers.
• Do not pour waste fats, oils and greases down drains or sewers.
• Good kitchen practice – scrape plates into a bin. Do not jet wash them under a tap. All sinks should have a strainer in the plug hole to prevent waste food from going down the drain.
• Use a grease trap that is regularly emptied.
• Ensure all oil is kept out of washing water.
• Collect waste fats, oils and greases in air-tight (ie sealed/leak-proof) containers to prevent odours and avoid attracting vermin.
• Store containers holding used cooking oils in a secure area away from all drains to prevent spills and leakages in to the sewage system.
• Do not dispose of used cooking oils and fats with the general waste stream or with the rest of your catering or kitchen waste. Waste contractors may refuse to remove it, and there may be odour or pollution problems.
• Businesses cannot take used cooking oil to a public household waste recycling centre (HWRC). HWRCs are for home owners and the general public only.
• By law, used cooking oils from catering premises must not be used as an ingredient in animal feed.
• Seek advice from your local Environmental Health Office and Building Control Department.
• Arrange for collection of your used cooking oil from a reputable organisation and retain the ‘Waste Transfer Note’ for any further inspections.
And the most important tip, consult an expert!