Seeing through the FOG

In the world of commercial kitchen design, the issue of fats, oils and grease (FOG) quite literally represents the mucky side of the industry.

FOG discharge practices have improved over the years, but most suppliers of FOG management solutions will agree that the education and marketing drive has only really just begun. FOGs are said to be responsible for the vast majority of blockages in commercial kitchens today, culminating in the average site spending up to £2,000 a year in proactive and reactive drain clean and dosing products.

Initially discharged to drains in hot wash water, FOGs naturally solidify when combined with other cold waste streams depositing on the surfaces of pipes and sewer lines.

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“It is estimated that such deposition is responsible for in excess of 75% of the 200,000 plus sewer blockages that occur in the UK each year,” points out Dr Tony Brooke, development director at Cleveland Biotech, which supplies a wide range of solutions for dealing with drainage issues, blockages and bacteria, including the GreaseBeta Total Fog Management suite of products. “The estimated annual clean-up cost for reactive blockage clearance and associated flood damage is £15m.”

What makes the issue of FOG particularly interesting is that market stakeholders don’t only include suppliers and their customers. Everybody from utility companies to local councils will have an opinion on the subject as FOG poses an expensive threat to the services that they manage.

Water companies are currently pressing the government extremely hard to introduce rules to govern FOG discharge, with Dublin said to be leading the way by introducing policed legislation tackling the issue. The industry expects this, and the commercial need to reduce the ongoing costs associated with local and public drain blockages, to drive demand for effective FOG management solutions.

So where do catering equipment distributors fit into the equation? Is FOG management something that should be planned into the design of a kitchen? Or is it more of a retrospective action?

“To be fair it can be both,” suggests Phil Holder, director of Bansa Environmental, a company set up last year to provide grease management and utility saving products to commercial customers. “If a site has a drain issue caused by FOG then it can be addressed and solved, so long as a full waste water survey is carried out to establish exactly where the contamination points are and that the resolution meets the needs of these areas. It is unfortunate that a lot of our time is spent retrospectively fixing the problems other solutions cause.”

Good housekeeping is seen by many as the primary method for minimising FOG discharge to drain but Cleveland Biotech’s Brooke is adamant that dealing with it at source will offer the strongest chance of success and prevent costly modifications to the kitchen once it is operational.

He says: “It is a requirement of the Building Regulations 2000 that all commercial hot food premises should be equipped with some form of effective grease management system to restrict blockage of drains by FOG. In light of this requirement, FOG management and control is without doubt a very important and integral part of commercial kitchen equipment, and as such should be incorporated into the design of the kitchen at the planning stage.

“It must be operational from day one, rather than being incorporated afterwards once the catering facility is up and running and only if a FOG-related drainage issue occurs.”

Aziz Tejpar, managing director of Environmental Biotech, a global provider of waste water solutions, drain maintenance equipment and grease traps, agrees that FOG management should be planned into the design of a kitchen from the outset, but he says the reality from his company’s point of view is that many operators first approach it when they consistently experience drain line back-ups resulting in costly reactive maintenances and surcharges passed on by
water authorities.

“Often those businesses will be unaware of the resulting damage caused by previous attempts to solve their FOG issues,” he says. “Repeated chemical dosing and the deployment of various plumbing equipment over the years not only offer a very limited solution but more often than not worsen the problem, causing untold damage to the drain line infrastructure. Education is absolutely fundamental across the industry.

“If caterers are unaware of the problems until they occur, then we cannot expect them to take preventative action against FOG. Already, water authorities are starting to encourage education on managing FOG disposal. For example, Anglian Water runs the ‘Keep it clear’ campaign which educates businesses and encourages greater ownership of the issue.”
Environmental Biotech’s technology harnesses the power of what the company refers to as ‘bioremediation’, a natural process in which bacteria consume grease and oil from drain lines, grease traps and interceptors.

"These bacteria are non-toxic, non-pathogenic, live and vegetative, and can turn grease and oil waste into harmless carbon dioxide and water. Using automated dosing systems in the form of the company’s ‘GreaseBlast’unit, vegetative bacteria are routinely administered strategically at locations within client premises to get the best effect.

“Contrary to popular belief, not all bacteria are suitable for drain line treatment,” notes Tejpar. “Biological solutions using certain spore bacteria can be incapable of producing a live colony within the drainage system to keep FOG build-up at bay.”

Environmental Biotech’s GreaseBlast solution is now being sold in the UK by Cannock-based First Choice. Although chiefly recognised as a spare parts provider, managing director John Whitehouse suggests FOG has become a prominent enough issue for it to seek out a product that can provide the market with a solution.

“We understand the expensive and time-consuming issues FOG can cause and are confident in its ability to provide our customers with consistent and effective results,” says Whitehouse. “Using GreaseBlast is an environmentally-friendly way of maintaining free-flowing drain lines, which we know is paramount, especially considering the health and safety risks blocked drains can cause, not to mention the untold damage to the environment.”

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Bansa’s Holder feels there is still a huge opportunity being lost at the kitchen design stage when the root causes of FOGs entering the drain course often get overlooked.

“If it is an accepted fact that FOGs are an issue and most FOG discharge emanates from commercial food service outlets, who is best placed to make the biggest difference? We are! I find it hard to accept that another business sector generates huge profits from a revenue stream that should be controlled from within our own.”

Holder’s company is keen to take the sting out of the challenge facing distributors by proposing bespoke solutions that take each kitchen on its own merits. It offers a package that includes the calculation of the flow rates to drain from sinks, dish wash and combis, while CAD blocks can also be inserted into existing plans.

FOG might not be an issue that has traditionally floated the distribution market’s boat, but experts warn that ignoring it completely can be a mistake as there is a reduced risk of retrospective charges from customers for mis-advice. It has even been suggested that the market is now facing an increasing number of claims for contributions to the costs resolving FOG blocks where solution have not been fit for purpose.

Environmental Biotech’s Tejpar adds that distributors also need to manage the expectations of customers as FOG is not something that can be solved by fitting a single piece of equipment. “The biggest misconception is that once a grease trap is installed it will do the job of preventing FOG build-up,” he says. “Little attention is given to maintaining that grease trap in good working order. Moreover, if used in isolation, without a preventative programme in place, it will not act as a standalone barrier, if capacity is not right.”

As much as supplier influence and government legislation will dictate the evolution of the market, it’s a fact that cost will also play its part. End-user customers are naturally more reluctant to shell out cash on drain cleaning solutions than they are, perhaps, on an item of cooking equipment.

Bansa’s Holder believes this will continue to fuel the move away from passive traps, high energy consumption units and solutions that require expensive refills. “Customers have become more aware of the cost FOGs inflict on their business. The commercial impact of a solution is just as important as the environmental consequences. Unfortunately not all solutions show a positive return on investment.”

Customers seeking to drive down cost is nothing new to the industry, and certainly shouldn’t mask the opportunities that exist for those in the channel that want to exploit the issue. “FOG as a general industry-wide problem is not going to go away,” says Environmental Biotech’s Tejpar. “Against this backdrop, there is a good commercial opportunity here for dealers and distributors, which will also see them reducing the burden on our environment.”

It is clear that providing customers with an ongoing solution to their drainage discharge problems could lead to some rich pickings for distributors that can see through the FOG.

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‘Fat as thick as paving stones’

The incorrect discharge of fats, oils and grease (FOG) remains a bugbear for all UK water companies, as it clogs up drains and sewers and leads to expensive maintenance bills. Last month, Severn Trent Water issued an alert to both domestic and business customers that it is continuing to see an increase in fats in its sewers and at its sewage treatment works as a result of customers pouring fat down sinks and drains.

The company said that while liquid fat, oil and grease may not appear to be a problem when they’re poured down a sink, the reality is that when they hit the walls of the cool sewer pipe they stick and harden like concrete. Over time, the build-up can cause blockages and overflows.

Craig Bayliss, service delivery manager at Severn Trent Water, said: “The only way to rid the sewers of these fat blockages is to use a high-pressure jet to chisel the fat from the walls of the sewers, or in serious cases we have to use heavy machinery to dig the fat out of the sewer. In some cases, we have found congealed fat as thick as a paving stone in our sewers.”

Bayliss warned that the cost of work to resolve FOG issues invariably gets passed onto customers when it could easily be avoided in the first place.

“We spend over £10m each year regularly cleaning over 700 kilometres of sewers, which are prone to clogging up, and clearing nearly 22,000 sewer blockages — money which could be better spent on improving the services we provide our customers,” he said.

Legal aid

Increased attention is now being placed on policing the thousands of commercial dischargers of FOG using a number of legal requirements that are currently in place to help prevent FOG entering drains and sewers at source. Failure to adhere to these requirements is increasingly leading to enforcement and prosecution. Here is a rundown of some of the key legislation governing the market:

The Water Industry Act 1991
It is a criminal offence under section 111 to discharge into the public sewers any matter which may interfere with the free flow of water. Costs incurred by the Water Company to deal with the impact on the sewer, investigating or remedying flooding or pollution incidents can be recovered from the polluter and prosecution can lead to substantial fines or imprisonment.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 — Duty of Care
Every commercial premises arranging collection and disposal of waste cooking oils and fats must comply with the requirements of Section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Environmental Protection Act (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991 as amended. The objective of this Act is to ensure that all waste is managed correctly from the place of origin to the point of final disposal.

Animal By-Products Regulations
Since November 2004, in order to protect the food chain, waste cooking oil from catering premises can no longer be used as an animal food ingredient, and since October 2007 additionally may not be disposed of to land fill, rather it must be collected via a licensed waste carrier.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 — Statutory Nuisance
The local authority’s environmental health department will deal with any reported complaints of “statutory nuisance”, such as smells, effluents, accumulation of refuse or any premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance by, in appropriate cases, serving an “abatement notice” under Section 80 of the Act. Failure to comply may lead to prosecution.

Food Safety Act 1990
Under the Food Safety Act 1990, local authorities are authorised to inspect catering premises. Any problems stemming from the effects of FOG on drains, resulting in a failure to comply with the Food Hygiene Regulations may result in prosecution or an emergency prohibition order preventing trading.

Building Act 1990
Section 59 of the Building act 1984 enables a local authority to require satisfactory provision for drainage of an existing building by service of a notice on the owner. This can require the installation of a suitable form of grease management system.

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