Goal is to prevent sewage system overflows and improve water quality
A year and a month after a Sarasota County ordinance went into effect in an effort to reduce sewage line blockages, “just under 3 million gallons of fats, oil and grease” has been kept out of the county’s utilities system, Dave Pouso, an environmental specialist with the Public Utilities Department, has reported.
As noted in a formal update from Public Utilities Department Director Mike Mylett, staff launched the Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) program in 2019 for the unincorporated parts of the county. The goal was to reduce sanitary sewer overflows and system maintenance costs, and to improve local water quality.
The County Commission approved the related ordinance on July 9, 2019, but it did not take effect until Jan. 1, 2020.
A county staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of that meeting pointed out that sanitary sewer overflows “can contaminate water resources, thus causing serious water quality impacts and back-ups into structures, potentially causing property damage and threats to public health. Grease disposed of by restaurants, homes, and industrial sources to the sanitary sewer system are the most common cause (47%) of reported blockages” that contribute to overflows.
“We’re engaging with the commercial food service establishments and making sure they’re utilizing best management practices in their kitchens,” Pouso pointed out to Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester during a Feb. 26 Facebook Live interview. Staff also is working to ensure that businesses are “maintaining their grease management devices appropriately,” Pouso added.
Initially, staff believed the unincorporated areas of the county were home to more than 1,000 facilities the ordinance would affect, Pouso continued. “We basically went out and found out about their operations and then narrowed the list to slightly more than 900,” he said.
In his formal update, Public Utilities Director Mylett noted that the team members “educated business owners on how items such as food scraps, dairy products, cooking oils and sauces can be easily stopped from entering the [county utilities] system, and how doing so helps prevent blockages and overflows.”
During that process, Pouso explained to Winchester, the team members found that business owners’ knowledge about fats, oil and grease issues “spanned the entire spectrum.” Therefore, Pouso continued, “It was very good” to undertake that engagement and education.
Pouso then held up a jar to show Winchester what fats, oil and grease look like after they have settled and cooled. “If this gets into our sewer pipes and into our collection system,” Pouso said, “it can obviously cause some issues with blockages” and lead to incapacitation of parts of the system. Ultimately, he pointed out, sewage can be backed up to the point that it flows out of manholes.
The county webpages devoted to the FOG Program explain that the businesses and entities the county ordinance regulates are those that prepare or package food or beverages for sale or consumption — on- or off-site — except for private residences; along with those “described as food courts, food manufacturers, food packagers, factories, restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, bakeries, cafeterias, lounges, hospitals, correctional facilities, hotels, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, churches or schools.”
In accord with the county ordinance, all regulated establishments must comply with the following provisions:
- Pay a monthly fee of $16.67 applied to the Utility account statement;
- Have a grease trap or grease interceptor per the Florida Building Code;
- Complete a facility survey;
- Properly maintain the business’s or facility’s system so as not to contribute oils and grease in quantities that cause line stoppages or grease buildup, or require increased maintenance;
- Clean and maintain the grease trap every 30 days;
- Clean and maintain the grease interceptor every 90 days
- Keep records of date, action taken, volume hauled, inspection date, and cleaning and maintenance dates;
- Conduct needed repairs;
- Use a licensed hauler to dispose of grease and solids;
- Retain maintenance and hauling records for three years;
- Receive county approval to use any chemicals or additives;
- Receive county approval to use alternative grease removal technologies; and
- Allow inspectors access during business hours.
Best practices for businesses and homeowners
During the Facebook Live interview, when Winchester asked how homeowners can help the Public Utilities System and the environment, Pouso replied, “We’re all connected through our sewer lines.”
Homeowners can keep in mind a statement that sums up what they should do, Pouso continued: “Scrape it, contain it and trash it.”
For example, he said, if someone has fried food, the person should let the oil cool and then pour it into a container, such as a jar. After the container becomes full and the material has cooled, he added, the container should be thrown into the trash.
“Moving forward,” Pouso told Winchester, “we’re going to be engaging [business owners] more” and undertaking more frequent inspections.
In his update, Public Utilities Director Mylett pointed out that the FOG team is reminding those in the commercial food business of a few best practices:
- Implement a training program to educate employees on how to deal with FOG and why.
- Post “NO GREASE” signs above sinks and on dishwashers to serve as a constant reminder for kitchen employees.
- Dry-wipe pots, pans and dishware prior to dishwashing to reduce the amount of material going to grease traps and interceptors.
- Capture accumulated oil when cleaning work stoves and ventilation/exhaust hoods and dispose of as solid waste.
- Recycle food and solid waste as an alternate means of disposal.
- Empty grease containers before they are full to avoid spilling.
- Use properly installed grease removal devices and have them serviced by an approved hauler.
- Remember the most common sources for FOG are meats, food scraps, baked goods, sauces, gravy, salad dressings, dairy products, fats, lard, cooking oil, shortening, butter and margarine.
“Water quality is of the utmost importance to our way of life here in Sarasota County,” Mylett added, “and protecting that way of life starts with [the public].”
Anyone with questions may send them to FOGprogram@scgov.net, or the person may call the county Contact Center at 941-861-5000.