Tip of the fatberg

03 September 2018

CountyClean Group discusses the growing problem of fatbergs and what catering and hospitality businesses can do to prevent them and the disruption they cause

Whilst the catering, supply and food production sectors are facing tougher legislation and stricter targets to reduce food waste, those who run and maintain these services are conscientious of their responsibility to run an environmentally friendly business that meets the current and future industry regulations. 

With people eating out more frequently the need to reduce waste and adhere to government policies is paramount for any business.

Commercial kitchen managers should be aware that health and safety risks can be mitigated by having well managed waste disposal services in place, whilst  facilities managers need to be aware of the implications that a blockage can cause by the incorrect disposal of non-flushable items.

Grease and fat can build up very quickly and limit the effectiveness of commercial kitchen oil skimmers, grease traps or interceptors which would stop fats and food solids from entering the sewer system. These fats congeal causing fatbergs, which can block sewers that could cause water contamination and property flooding as waste backs up the drainage system.

Each year, waste engineers in the UK deal with 200,000 sewer blockages, of which 75% are caused by grease, oil and fat waste. 

Clearing sewer blockages

CountyClean has helped to clear blockages of all sizes, including a 15 tonne bus-sized fatberg in Surrey that the company removed from the sewer network for Thames Water.

Due to a vast mound of food waste mixed with hundreds of wet wipes, the blockage had reduced the sewer to just 5 per cent of its normal capacity. Residents reported the matter quickly due to their toilets not flushing correctly and backing up. Had the blockage been left it could have caused huge disruption to the public and transport systems across London as raw sewage would have burst out of manholes.

Our drainage engineers used high pressure water jetting equipment to break up and dislodge the pulpy aggregation of cooking fat and flushed wet wipes that was then removed by their specialist Kroll Recycler unit as it filters out water for jetting purposes.

The unit cleared the blockage within 12 hours without the use of an additional water source, as it can recycle waste water back into the vehicles’ tank to be re-used during the heavy jetting process.

CountyClean’s highly skilled teams continued to assist Thames Water over a number of weeks to remove the remaining grease and debris in the sewer pipeline. A state-of-the-art mainline CCTV camera unit was also utilised to survey and monitor the sewer during the cleansing process, during which additional previously unknown issues with the brick work were highlighted. 

Good business practice

Building regulations require commercial premises that prepare hot food to be fitted with grease separators which are specially designed units that separate fat, oil and grease from wastewater before it enters the sewage works for treatment. Food macerators are not recommended as they don’t limit fats going into the drainage system and if using enzyme dosing systems, then these need to have been specified based on usage and are not necessarily the best option.

Whilst oil skimmers, grease traps and interceptors can help to reduce oil and fatty deposits from entering sewer networks, it is important that staff of food production areas and kitchens are trained to remove greasy residues before rinsing and washing, as detergents will not stop fats from congealing and turning into hardened lumps.

Those in the catering and hospitality industries will want to avoid drainage issues as these could cause loss of earnings, businesses becoming a public health nuisance, potential negative publicity and ultimately closure. 

Drainage that is not maintained regularly or is part of a pre-planned programme can also lead to rodent infestation and odours, as such it is imperative to ensure that a maintenance plan is in place and that records are kept for auditing purposes. Scheduled works should also be coupled with a reliable and effective back up plan in case of emergencies.