What is F.O.G.?
F.O.G. stands for fats, oils, and grease that are found in kitchens as an ingredient for, or by-product of, food preparation.
Examples of F.O.G. include:
- cooking oil (vegetable, canola, olive, corn, etc.)
- butter, margarine, and shortening
- salad dressing
- bacon and sausage grease
- peanut butter
- dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, cream, sour cream, and ice cream
F.O.G. pollution occurs when these products are poured down sinks, garbage disposals, or stormwater drains.
“Fats, such as butter; cooking oils; and leftover cooking grease can have harmful effects when poured down drains.”
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Why is F.O.G. Harmful to the Environment?
Sanitary Sewer Overflows: Fats, oils, and grease can solidify and accumulate around the insides of underground sewer pipes. This can lead to blockages, backups, pipe bursts, and overflows. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that “grease from restaurants, homes, and industrial sources are the most common cause (47 %) of reported blockages.”1 When sewer malfunctions occur, raw sewage directly enters the environment untreated and ultimately makes its way into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. This raw sewage carries excess nutrients as well as bacteria and other disease-causing pathogens that have a negative impact on human health, fish, and wildlife.
Septic System Failures: As with sewer pipes, F.O.G. can solidify and accumulate in septic tanks and septic lines causing blockages, backups, and overflows. Leaking and poorly maintained septic systems release raw, untreated sewage that can be picked up by stormwater and discharged into nearby waterbodies. Malfunctioning septic systems can lead to expensive repairs for homeowners, tenants, and landlords.
Stormwater Runoff and Illicit (Illegal) Discharges: The purpose of stormwater systems is to carry rainwater away from roads, parking lots, homes, and businesses as quickly as possible to prevent flooding. Stormwater systems collect rainwater (and anything it picks up along the way) and discharges it directly into a local waterway, untreated. Therefore, anything poured down a storm drain or into a storm ditch or gutter will make its way into shared waters. In most cases, anything poured directly into a stormwater collection system is considered an illicit (illegal) discharge by the EPA. This includes F.O.G., which can also accumulate in stormwater pipes, causing blockages or reduced flow through a stormwater system. This can lead to localized flooding and potential damage to homes and other structures.
What Can Be Done to Prevent F.O.G. Pollution?
Help prevent F.O.G. pollution by educating others on the threat it poses to streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Specific actions can also be taken in the kitchen.
Home Kitchens: Never pour fats, oils, or grease down a garbage disposal, sink, or storm drain. Instead, allow F.O.G. to cool and then seal it in a can or bottle and dispose of at a local recycling center or in household trash. Remove remaining F.O.G. from pans and dishes by scraping and absorbing with a paper towel. Hot water and soap do not eliminate F.O.G. because it will eventually reform and solidify in pipes.
Restaurant Kitchens: Follow local F.O.G. management and disposal regulations for restaurants. This can save money on repairs, fees, and fines. Proper disposal can even generate income if used F.O.G. is sold as a renewable energy source.
Best management practices include:
- Dry clean F.O.G. If water is used to clean up grease, it will ultimately go down the drain. Instead of soaking up grease spills with reusable rags that must be washed with water, use food grade paper to wipe up grease.
- Designate a safe equipment washing area. Kitchen mats, grills, and other equipment should be washed down in an area that does not lead to a storm drain.
- Keep F.O.G. out of garbage disposal. Never put fatty food scraps or oil down a garbage disposal, even if it is connected to a grease trap.
- Clean grease traps regularly. Any sink or floor drains that might take in oil should be connected to a grease trap or grease separation device. An overly full grease trap does not properly separate grease from water. Clean drain traps at least once a week. Contract a grease handler to remove grease from interceptor tanks at least once every three months.
- Locate and manage grease bins appropriately. Place outdoor grease bins in well-lit areas and within a reasonable distance of the kitchen door to ensure that employees can safely and easily access them. Always keep grease bins closed and inspect them regularly for leaks. Use spill containment products around grease bins to prevent any leaks or spills from reaching the storm drain. Be alert to how full grease containers are and schedule grease bin pumping on a regular basis.
- Recycle or sell used oil. Find a grease handler that will recycle grease instead of throwing it away.
- Train employees. Talk to staff about proper F.O.G. management and the damaging effects that poor management has on the environment and bottomline of the business.
- National Pretreatment Program – Controlling Fats, Oils, and Grease Discharges from Food Service Establishments. Office of Water, EPA-833-F-12-003, September 2012.