Grease is the word: Grease traps and a food service myth
Any lover of mysteries knows that plots unwind slowly and include twists. Just when the actual killer thought she or he had gotten away with murder, Lt. Columbo (or Sherlock Holmes, Stephanie Plum, insert your favorite Netflix crime solver here) would introduce a new fact that resulted in more than one gasp – on screen and in your living room. 24/7 Restaurant Parts prefers no surprises when it comes to serving our customers, but we are happy to offer information about a food service hero and introduce a greasy mystery that you may help solve.
You can purchase commercial-grade appliances in your home kitchen, but to be a certified commercial kitchen you are required to have a commercial-grade exhaust system and a way to capture used cooking oil before it makes its way into municipal sewer/wastewater collection systems.
In home kitchens, wise cooks pour their used cooking oil into jars for future use (don’t knock reusing bacon grease until you’ve tried it) or wipe away smaller amount of oil with a paper towel and throw it in the trash. The reason usually isn’t because the home cook is worried about the environment. The reason is because it doesn’t take much grease down a drain before you have a (sometimes costly to clear) clog.
The measures home cooks take to avoid a sink clog are exactly what cities, counties and other municipalities are doing by requiring commercial kitchens to have grease traps. The clog they’re avoiding is in a larger wastewater system and, technically, in the overall eco-system. Planet earth can’t handle the amount of grease that is disposed of every day.
A new grease trap looks like something a farmer from the 1800s would put in his yard to catch the weasel that is stealing his chickens. A used grease trap isn’t pretty because it collects the FOGs (fats, oils and grease) that separate from commercial kitchen wastewater and float to the top of the trap. The collected FOGs are usually called a “mat” because of the rectangular shape and depth of several inches. Not surprisingly, a grease trap requires frequent cleaning to operate properly.
So ends the informational portion of this article. Now on to the mystery.
As far back as the 1970s, a rumor circulated that a major cosmetic company contracted with McDonald’s to purchase the burger chain’s used grease, which, until 1990, was 93 percent beef tallow, to be used in the production of lipstick. If you had the opportunity to eat McDonald’s fries cooked in beef tallow (sorry, vegetarians, but those French fries were potato heaven), you know that your lips were never softer or smoother than after a bag of those culinary delicacies.
It’s not hard to believe that a cosmetic company would want to use that grease as a lipstick ingredient, but did they? Either McDonald’s or the unverified cosmetic company has done an excellent job at hiding the truth or someone just hasn’t sleuthed hard enough to find the answer. Either way, to quote an X-Files poster, “The truth is out there.” Maybe you’ll be the person who finds it.