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Fats Oils and Grease - Commercial Frequently Asked Questions


Grease Busters LogoGrease Abatement Coordinator - 757-259-4138

What is FOG? FOG stands for “Fats, Oils and Grease” found in kitchens and food service establishments (FSEs). The main contribution of FOG is from discharge of used grease from cooking processes.

Also, many of the foods we eat contain FOG; these include meats, sauces, salad dressings, deep-fried dishes, cookies, pastries, butter and many others.  Generally, food scraps washed down the drain contribute to FOG in the sewers.  Grease accumulation in the sewer system causes obstruction by constricting flow of the sewer pipes, and interfering with the normal operation of the wastewater treatment system.

Is FOG a community issue? From the standpoint of sewage collection, transmission and treatment of residential FOG is actually a major community health hazard.   FOG is given special significance due to its inability to mix with water, and its tendency to separate from liquid in the sewer system.

When FOG is released into the sewer lines in any amounts it can seriously degrade the collection system’s ability to remove waste from our community. It can be deposited directly on pipe walls, thus decreasing pipe capacity and, therefore, requiring an increased frequency of cleaning, maintenance, and replacement.  Additionally, FOG is extremely hard to process at Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s (HRSD) treatment facility located on Ron Springs Road (adjacent to Carter’s Grove).

FOG, especially grease (fats that are solid and stable at room temperature) dissolved in a warm and/or soapy liquid may not appear harmful.  When released into the sewer system that liquid cools down significantly, the grease/fats come out of solution, adhere on the pipe surface and you truly have a recipe for disaster.  Sewer lines meet at and dump into lift stations, normally positioned right in your neighborhoods, where small amounts of FOG collect and can become a serious threat to your community’s health.  This FOG solidifies and creates huge grease mats on the surface of our sewer lift stations that impedes their function of removing sewer effluent from your home or place of business and giving you a healthy living environment.  These mats of FOG can actually shut the station down, resulting in very expensive emergency responses and maintenance to restore normal sewerage flow.  If the problem is serious enough, sanitary sewer lines can backup even to the point of threatening your home.

Problems caused by waste from restaurants and other grease-producing establishments, have served as the basis for ordinances governing the discharge of grease materials to the sanitary sewer system. This type of waste has forced the requirement of the installation of preliminary treatment facilities, commonly known as grease traps and/or interceptors.

What is a grease trap? The terms grease trap/interceptor tends to be interchangeable.  A grease trap is a small reservoir built into wastewater piping a short distance from the grease producing area.  This is normally an under sink box-shaped fixture located in the kitchen, though they can be installed in the service area floor, but either way not larger than 20-30 gallons. Reservoir baffles retain the wastewater long enough to allow the grease to solidify and rise to the surface. Building staff can then remove and dispose the grease properly, either in a building exterior grease collection tub, or in the trash.  Due to the nature of this system being so limited in size constant monitoring and maintenance an absolute must.

The maintenance schedule is largely dependent upon its usage. If a grease trap or interceptor is not maintained regularly it will not provide proper grease removal. The establishment should work out a specific cleaning schedule that is right for them.  All grease traps/interceptors need to have the grease cleaned out periodically.  Running extremely hot water down the drain only moves the problem further down stream. It does not go away. Catch the grease at the source, as this is the most economical means to reduce all costs.

What is a grease interceptor and how does it function? A grease interceptor (to the right, click image to enlarge) is an in ground vault, roughly the size of a septic tank, with a minimum capacity of 700 gallons, but normally consisting of 1,000 gallons or more.  It is located and installed on the exterior,private side, of the building or property.  Current International Plumbing Code (IPC), which both the JCSA and Virginia Department of Health adhere to, require a minimum of two compartments with flow between each compartment Grease Interceptordesigned for FOG retention. Wastewater enters on the building side and exits the interceptor at the downstream outlet, minus the FOG component.  The capacity of the interceptor provides adequate time so that the wastewater has time to cool, allowing any remaining grease not collected by the traps time to solidify and accumulate until the interceptor is cleaned.  With the size of this system, cleaning is usually extended to a weekly/monthly calendar, but must be done by a septic service contractor.  If the facility anticipates excessive peak flows, a second grease interceptor is placed in series and immediately downstream of the first to catch any overflow.

The maintenance schedule is largely dependent upon its usage. If a grease trap or interceptor is not maintained regularly it will not provide proper grease removal. The establishment should work out a specific cleaning schedule that is right for them.  All grease traps/interceptors need to have the grease cleaned out periodically.  Running extremely hot water down the drain only moves the problem further down stream. It does not go away. Catch the grease at the source, as this is the most economical means to reduce all costs.

Can you recommend a maintenance schedule? Grease trap/interceptor cleanout and maintenance schedules, for commercial establishments, depend on the facility type and the volume of processing required for the type of business.  All grease interceptors (in ground vaults) should be cleaned, at a minimum, quarterly. Some establishments, especially high volume restaurants, will find it necessary to clean their traps much more frequently, with a cleanout cycle of three to four weeks.  If the establishment has to clean it too often, the owner should consider installing either a larger trap or interceptor or a second, in-line, trap. Records of cleanings should be maintained for three years.

Do I have a grease trap? If the facility management is uncertain as to whether a grease trap exists for the establishment, or are having problems locating a possible existing trap, the owner should contact the JCSA’s Grease Abatement Coordinator at 757-259-4138 for a free site visit and advice.

Do I need a grease trap? Any establishment that introduces FOG into the sewer collection system in quantities large enough to cause blockages or hinder treatment at the sewer treatment facility is required to install a grease trap or interceptor.  JCSA requires interceptors (in-ground) for high volume restaurants (full menu establishments operating 16 hrs/day and/or serving 500+ meals per day) and large commercial establishments such as hotels, hospitals, factories or school kitchens. Grease traps (under sink) are required for small volume (take-out restaurants with limited menus, minimum dishwashing and/or minimal seating capacity).   This requirement can change if the JCSA discovers excessive grease buildup, or blockages in the downstream sewer line, that requires maintenance from the JCSA.

What if I don’t install a grease trap? If a commercial establishment uses or generates FOG in food preparation, it will eventually encounter a maintenance problem with a plugged building sewer line. The blockage can create a sewer backup situation and ultimately a potential health problem within the establishment. If the problem develops on the private side of the sewer line, then the establishment has direct responsibility for paying for the repair or remediation. If the grease blockage is in the public sewer main, and it can be proven that the establishment is the cause of the blockage, then the establishment could pay for the public sewer to be maintained.  Additionally, HRSD (Hampton Roads Sanitation District) will be notified and can place a monitoring station on your sewer outflow.  Should they discover excessive FOG amounts, an additional charge will be added to the facility utility bill. Please note that restricting or blocking a sanitary sewer line is considered a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Who determines if I need a grease trap or interceptor? When waste pretreatment (FOG collection) is required by the JCSA or JCC Building Safety and Permits, a grease trap or interceptor shall be installed according to the manufacturers instructions, and the International Plumbing Code.  Further federal and regional directives and guidelines may also apply as set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ), The Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD). The JCSA Special Projects Coordinator will help the facility manager in determining if JCSA requires a grease trap or interceptor. James City County and Virginia State codes prohibit the discharge of materials that can solidify and create blockages in the wastewater collection system or treatment plants. The VDH makes periodic inspections to see that no health problems exist due to improperly maintained grease interceptors.  The JCSA has an ongoing program of inspection and verification of correct preventive maintenance procedures.

How can I get in compliance? The facility manager should contact the JCSA Grease Abatement Coordinator at 757-259-4138. If it is proven that installation of a grease trap/interceptor is required, the property owner will be required to file for a permit for device installation.  This may be done through JCC Building Safety and Permits located in the James City County Government Center, 101 Mounts Bay Road, Building E.  This ensures proper installation with an accredited plumbing contractor for a correctly sized grease collection device.

What are the criteria for inspecting grease traps? All food service establishments (FSEs) suspected of causing problems to the collection system or treatment facilities may be subject to random inspections.  The JCSA uses the following criteria to inspect grease traps:

Percent of
Trap Filled




25 – 50




If the trap is in FAIR condition, the JCSA advises the facility to maintain the current maintenance schedule. The cleaning frequency may need to be increased. If the trap is in POOR condition, the establishment will be issued a noncompliance letter to have it cleaned immediately. The facility manager will be required to contact the JCSA Special Project Coordinator within 30 days to verify that the grease trap has been properly cleaned.

What are Best Management Practices? Best management practices are a series of activities that effectively reduce the amount of waste generated in a business. In the case of FSEs (Food Service Establishment) and FOG control, BMPs include:

  • Using less oil, and liquid oil instead of solid grease or lard
  • Dry wiping all dishes, pots, and pans before putting them in the dishwasher
  • Collecting and disposing used oil through a licensed grease hauler instead of pouring it down the drain
  • Use of disposable paper products instead of dishware when possible
  • Capturing the oil accumulated in ventilation and exhaust hoods
  • Cleaning grease traps regularly
  • Keeping grease traps and interceptors well maintained and properly operating

How does the JCSA ensure compliance? JCSA will inspect FSEs at a minimum of once per year, without advance notice and with inspectors observing the normal operations at the FSE.  This is also to ensure that BMPs are properly implemented.  During inspection, they will ask for maintenance logs and manifest records (receipts) from licensed grease haulers. These records will verify compliance with proper waste disposal requirements. Records of cleanings should be maintained for three years


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