Feb 03, 2015   |   News

2014 Fall Issue of the IKECA Journal

Uncle Oscar’s is proud to announce their recent publication in the Journal of the International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Association (IKECA). IKECA is the first trade association for the kitchen exhaust cleaning industry and develops the standards for cleanning, inspecting and maintaining commercial kitchen exhaust systems. IKECA publishes their peer-reviewed Journal biannually to highlight innovations in the commercial kitchen exhaust industry.

Chemical Research and Design

Green. For most industries, the term brings to mind the following: expensive and ineffective. In simpler terms….a waste of time. No doubt, the green revolution is upon us and believe you me, it is a frustrating time for everyone involved. State by state, waves of regulations are crashing down on businesses and forcing greater responsibility and better business practices. Which is socially desirable but, as a general rule one can expect some erosion to the pocketbook. One question every business owner asks when faced with the “greening” of the industry is this: “What’s the use of protecting the environment if I am now unable to turn a profit?”

Good question. I am one of these “green chemists” with the caveat that I have discovered that feeling of true happiness and victorious achievement that only comes from cleaning the burliest grease from a kitchen exhaust hood. The point I am trying to make is that in the heat of battle, a successful day comes down to an efficient crew and an efficient chemical. I may not be able to help with your crew, but I can help you with your chemicals! Here are some of my thoughts when it comes to green chemicals: the truth is we need them, and they can actually grow your business.

Lets start with some chemical context. Sodium hydroxide, caustic soda, lye, sodium metasilicate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, heavy butyl degreaser, dipropylene glycol, DPGME, citrus degreaser, d-limonene—ring a bell? If not, go check out your favorite chemical. Look at the ingredients, and if you can’t find them request an MSDS from the company or your rep; it is your right to know what chemicals you are exposing yourself to on a daily basis. Do your homework.

Type the chemical name and health effects into google. But be warned, you may not like what you find. These chemicals are the gold standard for industrial FOG cleaners. They have been proven time and again to adequately and efficiently remove all varieties of FOG. Unfortunately these chemical workhorses tend to either highly caustic, carcinogenic, or both. Definitions: caustics, in our industry especially, tend to be strong bases that can cause severe burns to skin, eyes and lungs. The severity of the burn increases with concentration of the chemical in your cleaning solution and requires immediate medical action when contacted with skin. Carcinogens are chemicals that are statistically shown to increase cancer risk. The risk increases with exposure.

Because we deal with these chemicals everyday and have developed a relationship with them, we have learned to deal, and most of the time we get away with it. But sometimes, we aren’t so lucky. Anyone who has been burned by caustic immediately learns to respect the chemical, but overtime we also learn to tolerate the small burns and scars as the cost of doing business. Even if you have personally developed a level of working comfort with these chemicals, not everyone has, and this kind of chemical exposure definitely requires some close attention and comes with some obvious limitations. For one, it can be hard to find quality and trustworthy

personnel, especially with the daily exposure to harsh chemicals. At some point people get burned and all of a sudden the risk outweighs the reward. Tie in workers compensation, liability insurance, tighter regulatory oversight, dirty, slippery kitchens, rooftops, ladders, chimneys, and OSHA, compounded by a young crew with minimal experience and a tub full of caustic at their disposal. You are walking a very thin line. Re-read that last sentence, talk about tempting fate! Any number of worst case scenarios can put a business in good standing out business at the push of a button, the burst of a line or the spray of a hose.

If you think you are immune, here are some statistics: According to an American Burn Association study conducted from 2002-2011 and published in 2013, 49.3% of chemical burns are work related and if you are between the ages of 20 and 50 you are most at risk. These are just numbers of course, but here is another way to think about it: according to this study, for every 3 people who are burned on the job and require medical attention, 1 of them will require “excisional debridement” of the wound complemented with a skin graft. That is a statistic that give me the shivers and gives reason to think twice about handling chemical. Too often we become complacent and all too familiar with the chemicals we handle day in and day out. They pose a substantial risk to our person and our business yet they seem to be required in order to get the job done. This is by definition a double edged sword and this is where green chemistry comes in to save the day. It is my job, as a green chemist, to at once dull that edge that poses a risk to body, business and environment while honing the edge the cuts grease from stainless.

If you visit the website for the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering you will find a set of principals that are the industrial equivalent of the biblical 10 commandments. They are all important but there are three that really hit home for me:

#4.   Design Safer Chemicals – Chemical products should be designed to effect their desired function while minimizing their toxicity.

#10. Design for Degradation – Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they break down into innocuous degradation products and do not persist in the environment.

#12. Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention – Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions and fires.

With these principals in mind, I envision a sweeping change in the chemicals we use to clean the FOG burdened industries. What kind of changes can you expect from FOG driven green chemistry? For starters:

  • Chemical formulations that are gentle on skin but powerful on grease.
  • Formulations that function over a wide range of conditions including pH, temperature and salinity.
  • Greater efficiency at lower temperature and with less water.
  • Formulations hat react with FOG to form biodegradable products that are compatible with sewer and wastewater and which can be SAFELY washed down the sink without risking clogs downstream.

These chemical improvements are realistic and they are game changers. A business plan can be developed around the use of these types of chemicals that is both competitive and highly profitable. Here is why: if a chemical can come in contact with skin and tissue and does not require immediate medical attention, if the vapors no longer eat away at your nose, throat and lungs, if workers are no longer taking sick days or quitting on the spot without any notice or time to find a replacement, then operational costs, liability costs, and workmen’s compensation costs all plummet. Furthermore, when chemicals retain their efficiency but can be used without risk of burn, cancer, or quality of life, then there is a peace of mind that is maybe more valuable in the long run, at least in terms of reducing stress and holding onto sanity a little longer.

Obviously, the function of the product is crucial. If it doesn’t work you cant use it. So how can a product perform better? It can operate at lower temperatures, in a broader set of chemical conditions, and can perform consistently every time, all year round. This improvement is mainly directed toward biological chemical cleaners, i.e. bugs, bacterias and enzymes, all of which require a specific set of chemical conditions. If these conditions are not met, then the products are not effective.

Efficiency is also an important characteristic of an improved chemical. With a more efficient product you may use less water. If that water doesn’t need to be heated, you may save energy costs in addition to time and labour by not having to set up a water heating unit. Chemical efficiency also ties into what I believe is the kingpin of the chemical achievement in this industry: compatibility with wastewater and sewer. Current regulations require that waters generated from FOG cleaning are to be collected and properly disposed of. The reason for this is simple, these waters are laden with chemical and FOG and are often very hot in temperature. When poured down the drain or sewer grate this is what happens: First of all, often times the high water temperature and volume of chemical cause the FOG laden waters to bypass the grease trap. When the water hits the sewer the water temperature drops and the concentration of chemical is rapidly diluted to near zero. When this happens, all the fat, oil and grease that was carried in that water reforms, collects and agglomerates downstream. It forms in eddies, dead spots, pipe bellies and pipe walls, collecting until massive blockages occur and require maintenance.

So you can imagine, if a chemical can react with FOG to form a product that is compatible with the sewer and wastewater treatment infrastructure and processes, the cost savings would be grand. Not only can the cleaner save time and expense by pouring the waters down the drain, but the municipality no longer has to commit expense and time to an extensive FOG compliance program or pipeline maintenance.

So here is the kicker: Is it worth the cost of the green chemical? In my opinion, if the chemical meets the above principals and improvements, then yes. The green achievements are all factored into the cost of the chemical. They are going to be more expensive than the contemporary alternatives because they have advantages that go far beyond cleaning of grease. I think that the most important things to keep in mind are quality of service, trusting relationships with clients, worker safety and of course, your bottom line. If you can build a business plan around your chemical and the benefits it offers, then you will grow and improve your business by leaps and bounds. As a green chemist driven by principals and the ideal of solving real life problems, I think the benefits and potential of greener chemicals are desperately needed and long overdue. Maybe, after reading this you feel the same way.

Written by Peter Rehage, Uncle Oscar’s managing director, “Chemical Research and Design” was one of the spotlighted articles from the Fall 2014 issue of the IKECA Journal. It is a compelling argument for the use of safe, green cleaning products, not only for safety reasons, but also economic ones.