Interview with the Interceptor Whisperer

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Ken Loucks – aka the Interceptor Whisperer – has spent more than a decade learning how grease interceptors work and how to effectively manage them in pretreatment and FOG control programmes.

We were pleased to welcome him, from Vancouver in the US, to be the first speaker at our 2019 FOG European FOG Summit in Amsterdam in March.

We caught up with him afterward to ask some more questions:

Hi Ken! How did you get into the world of grease interceptors?

I’ve been in the plumbing industry since 1989 having worked in wholesale distribution, as a manufacturer’s representative and then directly for a grease interceptor manufacturer.

I started working in the area of commercial grease interceptors in North America in 2008. I became knowledgeable in the plumbing codes, product standards and pretreatment programme requirements that govern grease interceptors. 

Over time I became aware of the misunderstandings, misinformation, and misapplication that is pervasive in the industry regarding the application of grease interceptors.

I have spent the past several years teaching the fundamentals of commercial grease interceptors to pretreatment professionals, plumbing, mechanical and civil engineers, plumbing code officials and plumbing and pumping contractors.

Why are interceptors so important?

Commercial grease interceptors are the first and only line of defense against the discharge of FOG from foodservice establishments to wastewater collection systems. They are a critical part of FOG abatement strategies that help reduce FOG blockages and sewer system overflows. Sewer overflows represent a danger to human health.

How do they work?

All grease interceptors work off the same principle called gravity-differential separation. That’s a fancy term that just means that fats, oils, and grease are lighter than water and in a grease interceptor, they separate and rise to the top where they are stored. There are a number of factors that affect gravity-differential separation that must be considered in efficient designs. These factors include droplet size, specific gravity, temperature, viscosity, velocity, flow-pattern, and emulsification.

How should they be fitted? Can anyone fit one, or should they go to a professional?

Grease interceptors should be installed by a licensed professional that is knowledgeable in local plumbing codes and is familiar with the operation and installation requirements of the specific device. Plumbing codes and product standards have specific requirements governing the installation of grease interceptors that must be followed to ensure the device operates properly. 

What about standards? Do these vary geographically?

Product standards govern how grease interceptors are designed and tested. 

Applicable standards vary geographically. For example, in North America, the predominant standards for performance tested grease interceptors are PDI G101, ASME A112.14.3, A112.14.4, and CSA B481. In Europe, EN 1825 may be more recognisable.

Why might an FSE not have a grease interceptor?

Perhaps they are not aware of what they are or why they should have them. Restaurants are in the business of preparing and selling food to paying customers to generate a profit. Naturally, their attention is focused only on those things that directly affect the bottom line. Grease interceptors are not essential to generating a profit and are therefore not on the minds of FSE owners. 

What could the consequences be of not having one fitted?

While all residential and commercial users discharge some amount of grease, FSEs produce the highest concentrations of FOG in wastewater discharges. As such, FOG abatement efforts must be concentrated on these users for the most effective results in mitigating FOG deposit formations that end up causing blockages.

What advice would you give people opening an FSE? What research should they be doing?

Without question, anyone considering opening a restaurant needs to understand the requirements governing their wastewater discharges. The cost of non-compliance can be very expensive, especially if it can be proven that a sewer overflow was the fault of the restaurant discharging FOG to the collection system. I recommend contacting the local wastewater authority to inquire about regulations and requirements for grease interceptors.

Of particular concern for any FSE should be the material the grease interceptor is made from and its grease storage capacity. Carbon steel (metal) grease interceptors are guaranteed to corrode over time because of the highly acidic environment of decaying FOG and food debris. Undersized grease interceptors do not have adequate capacity and require more frequent and costly maintenance to remove collected FOG.

And finally, can we ask about your nickname?

I was nicknamed the Interceptor Whisperer by industry colleagues who considered me a grease interceptor savant. I prefer to think of myself as a grease interceptor geek who enjoys “nerding” out about these important pretreatment devices.

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