Business and Operations
Pizza on Fire: September-October 2012
By Tom Stankiewicz
Avoiding a messy situation
By Tom Stankiewicz
By law, every pizzeria must be equipped with a grease trap.
By law, every pizzeria must be equipped with a grease trap. It’s a simple plumbing device that separates grease from water and stops grease from entering the sewer system. If grease does enter the sewer system, there is a very high probability that it will cause a sewer pipe blockage over time. All pizzerias use deep fryers for things like chicken wings or panzerotti, and the rules and regulations apply to us the same as to any other restaurant business. I thought it would be worthwhile to review these guidelines since I, myself, recently had a visit from the city inspector.
|We had a business to run and couldn’t wait for the company we hired to clean our grease bin to clean up their spill.|
First, let’s understand what a grease trap actually does. Simply put, when wastewater enters the grease trap, the grease gets separated from water by floating to the top of the trap. The wastewater flows to the sanitary sewer while the oil remains in the trap. It is important that the grease trap is cleaned regularly and serviced at least once every two months to keep it running smoothly.
Overlooking the cleaning of a grease trap can lead to serious environmental problems. Blocked sewers can lead to a sewage backup into your business, other properties or local rivers. It can also lead to serious health problems for employees or visiting customers. Aside from this, the city’s public health unit can close down your business until the problem is fixed.
The idea, of course, is to prevent any of that before it actually happens. Every city website offers tips on how to properly manage grease. As you can imagine, the list isn’t short; however, there are three tips that make the most sense to me. First, it is the owner’s responsibility to train all staff in proper waste management. It only takes one person who doesn’t know the correct procedures to start the ball rolling in the wrong direction. Second, all sinks should be equipped with a strainer. Third, all solid grease buildups must be removed from equipment before washing it.
In our case, the city inspector came in to make an appointment for the following week. I invited him to come in and have a look right away. It was nice to hear that everything looked great. He explained that their job is to teach and explain to the business owners how to clean and prevent grease spills. Finding out how often we clean the grease trap, how it is cleaned, and who empties it for us, allows inspectors to ensure proper procedures are being followed. It’s an opportunity to provide guidance and assistance to a business owner who may not realize that he or she hasn’t been complying with regulations.
The appointment was set for a more detailed inspection. Two days before the appointment, the company that was emptying the grease bin for us spilled some of it. We could have been fined up to $400 for the spill, plus up to $1,800 to have the city clean it, and hundreds of dollars for an environmental company to check how deep the spill was. It was pure luck for us that the inspector had looked at everything just a few days earlier and understood that the cleaning company was at fault. He gave us a few days to deal with the company ourselves and ensure they cleaned up the mess.
I filed a complaint with the company and was notified that it takes a lot longer than a few days for them to review the complaint and then act on it. We had a business to run and couldn’t wait for the company to clean up the spill. Based on that update, the inspector offered assistance by letting us know exactly how it should be cleaned, and we ended up doing it ourselves. In short, we had to use the same cleaning product that automobile mechanics use for oil spills. The product acts like a sponge that soaks the oil out of the ground. Then we had to use a power washer and commercial vacuum to suck the rest of the grease out of the ground to prevent further contamination. The process had to be repeated a few times.
This was definitely an eye-opener for us. First of all, we now understand what is involved in the clean-up process. Second, we realized that we hadn’t properly researched the background of the company we hired to take care of the grease trap for us. We never thought to question their procedures when problems arise, what their service level agreement is, how long it takes to review a complaint, or how they have handled complaints in the past. We failed to ask these very important questions and had to do the job ourselves. It was a lesson learned for us the hard way, but it should motivate you to ask questions.
Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years. He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London, Ont., since 2000, and is president of the Canadian Pizza Team.