Keeping fat out of the sewers and meeting waste disposal regulations is an ongoing challenge for commercial kitchens, but by working with water companies, engaging staff, and researching equipment, establishments can avoid harmful blockages.
In October, director of building maintenance at Mitchells & Butlers Jennie Smith takes part in the European FOG Summit 2022 in Liverpool, UK. Here she shares her insights into overcoming this multifaceted challenge.
Effective management of fat, oil and grease (FOG) is a business priority
As a multi-site restaurant operator, FOG is an inevitable by-product of our service, but we invest significant time, resource and money into minimising volumes produced. We do this in a number of ways, focussing on training, operational practice and equipment as part of our environmental, sustainability and commercial priorities.
Cooking oil collection and recycling is key to our sustainability goals
We have a duty to minimise the impact of our business on the wider environment and active management and investment in FOG is a critical element. For us, the collection of used cooking oil (UCO) is operational best practice - we can maximise the benefit of a sustainable recycling process for UCOs, which fits perfectly with our sustainability agenda.
There are many Mitchells & Butlers brands – FOG management affects them all
We have a policy in place that covers the training, understanding, best practice and equipment. We have been actively winding down the use of enzyme dosing systems for a number of years now. This is because they do not remove fats at source, meaning they can still cause problems in the sewers. Instead we are upgrading all our outlets by installing more efficient grease removal units. This process is about to accelerate further to support our drive to lead the industry in FOG management.
There will always be competing priorities in busy restaurants and pubs
As with any central initiative, the key to our FOG policy is in explaining its impact and importance. If you can get people to understand the ‘why’ of something, it really helps them to adopt and embrace the requirements. Of course, this can be difficult – we operate around 1,700 restaurants and pubs all over the UK - but we have a robust audit process in place to highlight opportunities for improved training and engagement.
FOG ambassadors can help implement policies and best practice
Having ambassadors in an operational team who have a real interest in sustainability and the environment will help promote the benefits of the best practice you are trying to embed.
When it comes to implementing policy, I would also recommend contacting your local water company which manages the sewer network. Its network protection teams will be pleased to advise and work with you to help keep their sewers clear. By doing this, we have gained really helpful, informative and supportive contacts who offer guidance and support. This has been pivotal in developing our strategy.
However, before any of these steps are taken, it is important to understand where you really are in terms of effective FOG management - this is not always where you think it is. Then you can establish where the gaps are and work with stakeholders to agree how these gaps can be closed.
Communication with staff must be ongoing
The speed of service in restaurants and pubs, along with the rate of staff turnover, can cause difficulties. You must be prepared to keep reinforcing the message to new team members.
The well-reported staff shortages in hospitality are giving us further challenges - asking people to do the right thing can add time to already stressed teams, so you need to keep reiterating why we are asking them to do what we do, so shortcuts are not taken. As well as the operational risks, there are so many benefits to efficient FOG management that should be communicated. Improved UCO recovery, greater team engagement, wider sustainability and environmental benefits, fewer blockages and flooding within the business, so less business interruption and associated costs.
Sourcing equipment is the single biggest challenge
With no real standard or independent assessment and a lack of guidance, we feel we must undertake our own research when sourcing equipment and work things out for ourselves. Manufacturers all believe in their own product, but with no standardised assessment criteria, the technology is very difficult to review and specify.
We have ended up doing a detailed and thorough trial of a number of options across our businesses to establish efficiency within our own kitchens. It has been a minefield and this is a real blocker to serious investment in estates like ours, as you have to be sure the rollout investment is right.
Hospitality and water could work better together
There are a lot of water companies in the UK and finding a way to engage as a group would be hugely beneficial. In the same way, if large organisations like Mitchells & Butlers were to provide a single point of contact for the water company, that would really help them. This is not just for when there is a problem, but also for strategic discussions on best practice, innovation and investment.
The European FOG Summit 2022 is a chance for both sectors to collaborate further
I hope that by focusing on hospitality, the FOG Summit will allow us to really start to push the conversation, get the issues out on the table and then collaboratively work together to find solutions. There should be no agendas, no shield of business sensitivity, and all the sectors involved in solving the problem should be sharing their knowledge and expertise. This can collectively get us where we need to be in the quickest and most efficient way possible.
Jennie Smith will be among panellists at the European FOG Summit 2022. The conference takes place on 19 October at Titanic Hotel, Stanley Dock, Liverpool, UK, with networking events planned for 18 October. More details at www.fogsummit.co.uk