Like most restaurant owners, you probably have an equipment maintenance checklist that includes checking equipment for failure and ensuring appliances are working efficiently for maximum energy savings. However, if you don’t have a proper cleaning checklist, you should get one fast.
Cleaning a commercial kitchen involves a ton of elbow grease and the knowledge to know which areas to clean for proper food and environmental safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite commercial kitchens as the source for more than 50% of all foodborne outbreaks. This means that thoroughly cleaning your commercial kitchen can actually help to spread airborne illness.
Proper cleaning of a commercial kitchen must involve the countertops and other hard surfaces, all the appliances and other equipment, your exhaust hoods and vents, as well as the floors, walls, and ceilings.
Before you finish your list, there is a critical component to commercial kitchen cleaning that we failed to mention: Grease traps.
If your kitchen’s grease traps aren’t cleaned on a regular basis, you could find yourself with a mess on your hands, not to mention a major fire hazard.
The Importance of Cleaning Your Commercial Grease Traps
A grease trap that is regularly cleaned is vital to the health of your restaurant business. Grease traps that aren’t cleaned thoroughly can produce foul odors, which can offend even the most laid back of restaurant patrons.
Dirty grease traps can also cause you to commit expensive state and federal code violations.
For those reasons, you will want to ensure that you put into place a regular grease cleaning schedule that will keep your patrons happy and your restaurant profitable.
What is a Grease Trap?
A grease trap is a plumbing device that is designed to intercept grease and other solids before they have a chance to enter the wastewater disposal system. While some wastewater does contain a small amount of oil, grease traps keeps large amounts of oil, fat, and grease from clogging the septic tank and sewer lines.
Commercial kitchens produce a ton of oil, fat, and grease, sometimes on a daily basis. When these particles enter the grease trap from the commercial kitchen’s outflow, the solid food particles sink to the bottom while the grease, oils, and fat float to the top. The grease-free water is fed into the septic system, leaving the grease trap accumulating more of the gunk all the time.
Since these substances can solidify when cooled, the mixture of them can cause blocked drain pipes. A grease trap also manages to keep the septic and sewer lines cool while preventing a dangerous fire from occurring.
However, grease traps can only work effectively when they are cleaned regularly. That’s because a buildup of grease is one of the most dangerous problems you can encounter in a commercial kitchen. When you combine the grease buildup with sparks and flames that regularly occur in a high-pressure kitchen, dangerous and deadly fire can result.
The good news is that you will likely be reminded to regularly clean your commercial grease traps, as state and local codes, and even some insurance companies, along with the local fire department, will often have schedule requirements for proper grease exhaust cleaning.
How Frequently Does Your Grease Trap Need to be Cleaned?
The schedule you adhere to for proper grease trap cleaning varies, depending on your restaurant type, size, and other factors, such as your hours of operation.
Generally speaking, you should plan to have your commercial grease trap cleaned every thirty-days if your establishment uses wood or charcoal grills, char-broilers, and if your doors are open 24/7. Many hamburger restaurants need a schedule like this due to the high rate of table turnover and cooking production. All those burgers produce a ton of grease, which needs to be cleaned out every month.
Every sixty-days is the required commercial grease trap schedule for the average restaurant. This includes cafeterias, hotel kitchens, hospital kitchens, and your local family restaurant. Since the grease traps aren’t overflowing on a monthly basis, every two months might be an acceptable schedule for your needs. Check with the local code authorities to determine if this schedule is right for your restaurant or other commercial kitchen business.
Many fast food locations have become very efficient with their grease trapping and cleaning, which means that these types of establishments can often get away with ninety-day grease cleaning schedules. A thorough scrubbing every three months should keep the grease traps clean and the cleaning process affordable for restaurant owners.
For pizza restaurants, convalescent hospitals, snack bars, and oven hoods, every 120 days or once every four months should suffice for proper grease trap cleaning.
How is a Grease Trap Cleaned?
For best results, you should always hire a professional commercial kitchen cleaning service to thoroughly clean your grease traps. Only a reputable company will have the training, tools, and abilities to clean your grease traps so they are always up to code.
If your grease traps aren’t cleaned as well as they could be, you could face a load of problems. For one, your insurance company might revoke your insurance. You also face serious liability and litigation from fires that were caused by you not ensuring that your grease traps were properly cleaned. Hefty fines or a personal injury court case could put you out of the commercial kitchen business entirely.
The National Fire Protection Association or NFPA states that the majority of restaurant fires start when cooking appliances flare into the kitchen exhaust system. When you consider that grease fires burn as hot as 1400 degrees Fahrenheit, a grease fire can spread quickly through neglected exhaust systems that are laden with grease. Fire could then travel to the roof, where more business-killing damage can be done, not to mention the threat of injury and loss of life.
Nearly 11,000 commercial kitchens are damaged by fire every year, resulting in over $160 million in damages. Make sure yours is not one of them with proper commercial grease trap cleaning and maintenance.
Depending on the company you hire, your grease traps will be cleaned with a variety of high-pressure tools and precision techniques. Each team that is hired to clean your kitchen knows there are pipes and ventilation shafts that can become traps for grease, oil, and debris. These areas need to be cleaned just as thoroughly as your grease trap to prevent future problems.
Unless your time schedule was specified by fire and other coding authorities, your grease traps should be professionally cleaned at least every four to six weeks. Failure to clean your grease trap can cause all those solids to enter the wastewater, causing blockages that could then flood your restaurant with foul smelling sewer water. If that does happen, it will take at least two days to sanitize your commercial kitchen establishment, leading to an expensive and unnecessary shutdown.
When the professionals show up to clean your commercial grease trap, the first thing they’ll do is assess the type of grease trap you operate.
There are four essential types of the commercial grease trap.
Hydromechanical Grease Interceptor (HGI)
A hydromechanical grease interceptor is a small grease trap that is usually located in cabinet space underneath a sink. This type of grease trap provides passive oil trapping and is the least expensive to install. The drawback to the HGI grease trap is that it requires frequent cleaning, which might end up costing you more in cleaning and maintenance costs in the long run.
Automatic Grease Removal System
This type of grease trap features an automatic mechanism for removing grease from the tank, where it’s kept in a separate container. While these systems can be a good alternative for the HGI, they make it a little harder to prove that your commercial kitchen skims FOG (Fat, Oil, and Grease) regularly.
Gravity Grease Interceptors (GGI)
These grease traps separate water, solid waste, along with fat, oil, and grease using the force of gravity. The tanks are constructed of metal, concrete or a strong plastic and are designed to collect wastewater while separating FOG. When the FOG is collected, it floats to the surface while the solids sink to the bottom. The wastewater flows into the sewer network or the water treatment plant, and the grease is kept in the trap.
If your establishment has a GGI, the grease will need to be pumped out regularly, or at least at the point where solids and grease become 25% of the overall tank’s contents. These grease traps are more expensive to install but require less maintenance than HGIs or their automatic system counterparts.
Maximum Retention HGIs
For restaurants that don’t have space for larger, more conventional grease traps, maximum retention HGIs are becoming increasingly popular. These grease traps are on the smaller side, and yet tend to trap more FOG per volume. Some units manage to trap up to 85% of their liquid capacity. The best part is that these systems require far less maintenance than your standard grease trap systems.
Depending on the type of grease trap your establishment uses, here are some common ways a commercial cleaning company will keep your restaurant spotless and safe with proper grease trap cleaning.
Proper Cleaning Protocols for Commercial Grease Traps
The company will begin by removing the grease trap lid, typically with a crowbar or a wrench, as some traps are sealed with bolts.
The cleaning professionals will need to ensure that the grease trap is completely cool before working on it. Allowing the liquids inside to reach room temperature will also cause the fats, oils, and grease to float to the top, which makes them easier to scoop out.
The cleaning crew will first inspect the baffles, which are the parts of the grease trap that separate the flow of wastewater in the grease trap tank.
If yours is an outdoor trap, there will be a PVC pipe fitting known as an outlet T. Without this device, the grease trap wouldn’t be able to do its job properly. The outlet T will ensure that the water leaving the grease trap is coming from the middle of the grease trap and that none of the solids are entering the sewer system.
Cleaning a grease trap begins with removing the solid FOG that has floated to the top. This usually consists of a two-inch layer of thick sludge. The cleaners will use a scoop for this job until all the fats, oils, and grease have been lifted out of the tank. Only water and leftover food solids will remain after this part of the job is completed.
Now comes time to use the heavy-duty grease trap cleaning tools. A powerful shop vac will be used to remove the residual solids and leftover water. During this process, the cleaning crew will need to ensure that the automatic dishwasher is turned off and that the sinks are not in use. Doing so will prevent the grease trap from filling up while the cleaning process is ongoing.
Next, the commercial grease trap cleaners will scrape off the baffles, sides of the grease trap, and the lid. All excess grease will need to be removed before the cleaning crew can call it a job well done.
Your grease trap will then be flushed-out with soap and a degreasing solution, in most cases, then clean water. By the time the crew is finished, you will be left with a clean and sparkling commercial grease trap.
One of the primary reasons that a professional crew is often selected for grease trap cleaning is because these services have the means to safely remove any FOG collected.
These services will typically offer grease trap cleaning in addition to vent hood, fans, ductwork, and HVAC cleaning, making sure your restaurant is free of fire-starting grease and other debris.
Want a Free Quote for Professional Grease Trap Cleaning?
If you want your grease trap to remain clean at regular intervals throughout the year, keeping you code compliant and your restaurant safe, you’ll want to call on the commercial kitchen cleaning professionals.
Aps-Hoods proudly serves clients throughout Denver, Aurora, Centennial, Lakewood, Colorado and Los Angeles, California. For safe and reliable commercial kitchen cleaning that will save you time and money, contact our grease trap cleaning professionals for a free quote.