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Grease traps are designed to prevent excessive amounts of grease, oil, and fats from entering the wastewater or septic system. Grease being able to clog pipe lines and cause significant damage as they cool and solidify makes the grease trap one of the unsung heroes of the restaurant or industrial kitchen.
But grease traps are not a fire-and-forget solution. They will get full and need to be cleaned out regularly. In this article, we'll go over how often you need to clean them, who should clean them, and why they should be cleaned regularly.
Grease Clogs and Sewage Incidents
Grease traps are most commonly used in restaurants that use large quantities of grease and cooking oils. Simply washing this stuff down the drain is inadvisable, since you'd soon find yourself dealing with clogged pipes.
Clogged pipes are a hassle, and it would be bad enough if the damage was restricted to your establishment, but unfortunately the problem is larger than that. Improper disposal of grease doesn't just clog your pipes; it can also damage sewer and septic systems.
Surprisingly – unless you happen to work in the municipal sector – grease has been named the number one cause behind the more than 40,000 municipal sewer overflows that happen each year. Some statistics suggest that it causes upwards of 50 percent of these, which release more than 10 billion gallons of raw sewage into communities each year. As you can imagine, all that raw sewage has a devastating environmental impact on communities and rack up massive clean-up costs.
Going Beyond the Minimum
In an effort to reduce these costs and mitigate environmental damage, most communities have strict grease trap requirements for restaurants stipulating that traps must be included on all kitchen sinks, cooking equipment, and dishwashers.
But installing these grease traps – even state-of-the-art ones – isn't enough to counteract all potential problems. It's important to go beyond the minimum requirement of installing the traps and also ensure that they are cleaned regularly following the best practice protocols.
These regular cleanings don't just benefit the wastewater system and the taxpayer, they also benefit your workers. Often, it's not just grease that will get stuck in the traps, but food as well. As these food products decompose, they may release noxious sulfur fumes that can be damaging to those exposed to them, especially if the exposure is prolonged.
Even the workers who grumble about having to clean the grease traps, then, should know that they're protecting their health by doing it.
At present, industry standards suggest that grease traps should be cleaned at least once every three months.
This general recommendation, however, doesn't take into account how much work each grease trap has to do. A busy burger joint that is constantly dunking french fries into the fryer will likely need to clean their grease traps far more often than once per quarter.
The recommendation also doesn't take into account the fact that some restaurants attempt to save on cleaning costs by using larger grease traps. These grease traps might be able to go a while without a cleaning. But be sure to consider the warning above: trapped food left for too long could be a problem, even if the grease trap still has a lot of capacity.
Who Should Handle the Cleaning?
Once you have decided how to schedule your grease trap cleanings, you need to decide who is going to do the actual cleaning.
Some restaurant owners choose to take the DIY approach. While it's feasible to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, it can be highly unpleasant – who wants to tackle and properly dispose of massive amounts of brown grease? Moreover, not every restaurant has the right equipment to deal with it safely. Without a respirator, rubber gloves, and other relevant gear on hand, it's best not to put your health at risk by doing it yourself.
In addition to those concerns, you should also consider what could happen if you make a mistake in the cleaning process. The maintenance and recovery costs that result from a slip-up could be far higher than the cleaning costs you were trying to avoid.
Because of these risks, most restaurant owners choose to call in professionals to handle the task. These could either be companies devoted to grease trap cleanings, or they could be licensed and bonded plumbers. No matter what kind of professional you choose to go with, remember to do your research. You want to work with you a firm that has an outstanding record in this kind of work.
Many grease trap cleaning companies used to work with harsh chemicals as part of the cleaning process. Unfortunately, those were usually washed down the drain and became part of the wastewater system, creating an environmental risk.
Increasingly, these caustic chemicals are no longer used or even allowed and have been replaced by environmentally friendly alternatives. There are, for instance, green solutions that work by building up the positive bacteria in the grease trap to break down the grease, fats, and oils. Make sure to discuss what chemicals your cleaning company will be using to be sure that they are the safest and cleanest available products.
Keeping Costs Low
The price of grease trap cleaning generally depends on numerous factors, such as the size of the grease trap and in what area your restaurant is located. But for an average-sized grease trap, you're generally looking at a cost of $75 to $150 per cleaning. If you have installed a large underground grease trap outside the restaurant, the cost could rise to well over $300 per cleaning.
Maybe that sounds steep at first blush, but keep in mind that it's actually a cost saving measure. The price you pay for regular cleanings is just a drop in the bucket compared to the clean-up costs you could wind up with if a dirty grease trap overflows.
Grease trap cleanings are an investment. By paying to regularly maintain them, you will be keeping your overall costs lower than they would be if they were neglected.
Grease trap cleanings are an important but frequently overlooked part of running a successful restaurant. When you're working with potentially harmful or damaging fats, oils, and grease, you need to make sure that you have a good cleaning and disposal system in place.