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Monroe County to Inspect Safety of Restaurant Grease Traps

Patti Singer

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo announced inspections of grease traps at restaurants after the death of a 3-year-old. File photo

Update: On July 26, County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo introduced legislation to regulate the safety and security of grease trap covers.
The move came after a 3-year-old fell into a grease trap at Tim Horton’s on University Avenue several days earlier.

In proposing the legislation, Dinolfo said the state lacks uniform standards that regulate grease trap covers.

“Until Albany takes action … it is imperative that Monroe County take the lead to address this ambiguity under the law,” she wrote to the Monroe County Legislature.

Under the proposal, grease traps must withstand “expected loads and prevent access by unauthorized individuals.” The restaurant has to make sure the cover is bolted or locked, or be sturdy enough to prevent unauthorized access.

The Monroe County Department of Public Health shall inspect grease traps and/or interceptors with manhole covers annually. Failure to comply with the requirements shall be subject to enforcement in accordance with the Monroe County Sanitary Code, up to and including a fine and/or suspension of permit.

A Public Hearing will be held prior to the Aug. 13 meeting of the Monroe County Legislature. The proposal will thereafter be considered by the Monroe County Legislature at its regularly-scheduled meeting on Sept. 10. Once passed, the legislation will be subject to a second public hearing prior to becoming effective by the end of September.

Monroe County will be checking to make sure grease traps are secure and to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that claimed the life of a 3-year-old boy July 15 at a Tim Hortons in the city.

Starting July 25, the county Department of Public Health will inspect grease traps at licensed eateries.

Inspectors will ask if there is a grease trap on the premises and if the grease trap is located inside or outside the facility. Inspectors will physically check the trap based on New York State Department of Conservation’s guidance, which recommends that the covers for grease traps “be of sufficient weight, or mechanically fastened, or provided with a lock system to prevent unauthorized entry.”

Inspections of approximately 2,500 establishments are expected to take two weeks, according to a news release from County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo. If any deficiencies are found, the health department will recommend how business owners can fix the problems.

Dinolfo also said she intended to propose a law to regulate grease trap covers in Monroe County by setting clear standards for security and requiring regular inspections.

Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County commissioner of public health, sent a letter to permitted businesses announcing the inspections. He wrote that “Monroe County has not been and is not responsible for the ongoing inspection and enforcement of grease traps located outside of a dining establishment. However, due to the seriousness of the situation, we have been charged by County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo to take this opportunity to immediately assess and evaluate the security of all external grease trap covers at dining establishments in Monroe County.”

Attention has been focused on grease traps since the child apparently stepped on the lid of a grease trap outside the Tim Hortons on University Avenue. The lid, which was not secured, flipped. The child fell and the lid went back into place. Rescuers found the child and tried life-saving measures.

“As a mother and grandmother, last week’s tragedy was a horrific loss that shocked and saddened me to my core,” Dinolfo said in a news release. “We learned in the wake of the incident that no agency or entity, at the state or local level, is explicitly responsible for the ongoing inspection of grease traps in New York State. As we indicated last week, I intend to introduce legislation to address that ambiguity under the law and set clear standards for these covers in Monroe County as soon as possible.”

Dinolfo asked that restaurant owners assess their grease traps and be prepared for an inspection.

Mendoza reminded proprietors why the inspections are being done.

“You may be aware of the recent tragedy involving a three-year-old boy who fell and died as a result of an unsecured grease trap cover at a dining establishment in the City of Rochester. This loss is heartbreaking and has raised concern about the potential risk that additional unsecured grease trap covers may pose to public safety,” he wrote.