Catering colleges: A lesson in how to fight the fatbergs

While many assume that the focus of catering courses is on cooking, a great deal of attention is also paid to everything that surrounds this core component. From food hygiene to disposing of food and other kitchen waste, it is important for students to learn about more than just how to cook and present the best dishes. As we enter a new academic year, there is no better time for catering students and teachers alike to make small changes that lead to big improvements further down the line. This is certainly true when it comes to the way in which cooking waste and food products are disposed of in kitchens, both in catering colleges and in the real world once jobs are secured.

What happens when waste is disposed of incorrectly?

Fats, oils and grease (FOG) are very commonly poured down the sink when caterers are either getting rid of leftovers or as part of the washing up and clean-down process. While the liquid form might seem best suited to the sink rather than bins, FOG is incredibly damaging once it gets past the plug and enters the drainage network. As soon as FOG cools down in the drains it starts to solidify. This solid matter builds up over time, as more oils and grease are poured down drains, and often results in a blockage. It might not block the sink in which it was disposed of, but it can cause an issue in the pipes beneath the catering college or further down the line in the sewers.

These solid masses of FOG are exacerbated in the sewerage network, as they are joined by a whole host of other products that do not belong there. From disposable wipes that have been incorrectly flushed down the toilet to nappies and sanitary products that belong in the bin, products that cannot disintegrate combine with FOG to create what is known as ‘fatbergs’. One of the largest examples of these that we have come across was unearthed in Whitechapel in 2017, weighing 130 tonnes and was on display at the Museum of London. Fatbergs are incredibly difficult and costly to get rid of, as they can only be broken down and removed manually. Prevention is far better than the cure, and caterers have a crucial role in stopping these from forming in the first place.

What ingredients contain FOG?

There are a number of quite obvious culprits when it comes to FOG, such as cooking oils and fats like butter, lard and ghee, but there are also some that go under the radar. Salad dressings, sauces, soups, icing and meat juices are all common sources of FOG that lead to problems in the drainage network. Many caterers simply rinse these items down the sink as it seems like the most efficient option, yet all of the aforementioned products should actually be disposed of in the bin. For example, a pan of soup should be poured into a dedicated food-waste bin and then wiped out with kitchen paper – and the paper disposed of in the bin – before the pan is washed in the sink. Similarly, grease left behind on a baking tray when meat has been cooked on it should be wiped down before it is washed to get rid of any fatty residue. When cleaning floors, caterers might also be tempted to sweep food waste and liquids directly into floor drains, but these are meant for clear liquids only and should not be used for disposing of any food or FOG.  

Why should you care?

As mentioned above, the time and cost implications of drain and sewer blockages can be huge. If that is not enough to deter caterers from wrongly disposing of FOG and other waste, consider the environmental impact that fatbergs can have on the nation’s waterways. Hidden plastics and blockages that lead from the sewers to rivers, seas and oceans are harming marine life but this could be so easily avoided. Scottish Water has recently launched a pilot trial in St Andrews to guard against this, placing drains on a ‘diet’. The company’s Fat Free Sewer project will see food waste management experts visiting every food service establishment in the area to explain how best to dispose of FOG and other risks to the sewers. Caterers should also consider the implications of poor waste disposal when it comes to pest control, as food debris in drains is a major draw for rats, cockroaches and other pests. And a final incentive to start disposing of food waste in the correct manner is that there are laws around this that can result in fines worth thousands of pounds if caterers fail to adhere to the rules.

For more information on the legalities around waste disposal in catering, along with practical advice on how to tackle the issue, consult our free downloadable guide, available at:

By Michelle Ringland, head of marketing at industrial, commercial and domestic drain specialists, Lanes Group

Back to top button