Working with Government to Catch Grease Thieves

By Tina Caparella

Renderers across the country continue to struggle with ways to deter the theft of used cooking oil, also referred to as inedible kitchen grease. While many companies have hired private investigators, provided incentives to employees to report theft, and installed surveillance cameras and theft-deterrent container lids, California renderers and grease collectors have banded together with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to enforce and fine-tune laws already on the books.

In 2011, the Pacific Coast Renderers Association and California Grain and Feed Association teamed up to get a legislative bill passed that developed a seven-member Rendering Industry Advisory Board (RIAB) to make recommendations to the CDFA and the state’s agriculture secretary on matters pertaining to CDFA’s Meat, Poultry, and Egg Safety Branch’s Rendering Program. The group held its first meeting with CDFA in early October, and although there was some slight frustration among a few members at the department’s limitations, all agreed it was a good start.

Michael Koewler, Sacramento Rendering Company, was voted in as RIAB chairman with Daniel Stonesifer, president of the San Diego Fats, Oils, and Grease Haulers Association, elected as vice chairman. Most of the initial meeting addressed various activities by CDFA’s Inedible Kitchen Grease Program team members, including three investigators. Each investigator reported the various citations issued and fines implemented this year in both Southern and Northern California, with all agreeing that more work needs to be done in getting district attorneys to be receptive to prosecuting cases. Better success was reported when focusing on grease theft as an environmental crime.

So far, most theft cases are settled out of court by the CDFA for the minimum fines, which is up to $1,000 per violation. However, beginning January 1, 2013, penalties could take a bigger bite out of thieves’ pockets when CDFA is allowed to implement fines up to $5,000 per violation and given more authority to collect those fines, such as garnishing state income tax refunds. The fines collected go back into the industry-funded program, which is financed by transporter registration fees. Investigator and some CDFA personnel salaries are paid out of the program, with no state funds being used.

Another use of program monies is grants for city law enforcement personnel. Earlier this year, a grant of $51,544 was awarded to the city of Fontana to pay police overtime to catch thieves in the act of stealing used cooking oil. Another grant of $50,000 has been earmarked for educating the Orange County District Attorney’s Office where six theft cases are pending, and CDFA recommended perhaps another grant be awarded in the Sacramento area to include the cities of Elk Grove and Roseville where thefts are on the rise.

Dr. Doug Hepper, CDFA’s Animal Health and Food Safety Services/Meat, Poultry, and Egg Safety Branch chief, encouraged renderers and grease collectors to file online police reports when a theft occurs as this leads to police agencies contacting the program’s investigators who in turn make them aware of the inedible kitchen grease program and grants for overtime work to catch thieves. CDFA recently sent a letter and educational flyer to state sheriff and law enforcement agencies making them aware of the rise in thefts and the state’s program, what suspicious activity to look for, and a new $500 reward being offered for an arrest leading to a conviction. CDFA is also creating an 8” x 10” decal for grease containers and refrigerator magnets announcing the new reward program and grease hotline (855-HIT-GREASE) that allows confidential reporting of suspicious activity as it relates to inedible kitchen grease.

An online reporting system is also being put in place at, with tabs for reporting thefts, searching for registered transporters, and convictions. CDFA stated these tools are for restaurants and the general public to make reporting thefts as easy as possible; renderers should continue to file police reports.

Koewler suggested reaching out to the California Restaurant Association to educate their members about the new reward, hotline, and online reporting website. Other RIAB members also recommended putting the decal, magnets, and other theft reporting information in Spanish as a large population of the state’s restaurant industry speaks this language.

On CDFA’s to do list is a proposal to make it illegal for registered inedible kitchen grease transporters or other persons to obtain grease from unlicensed renderers or collection centers, and a manifest regulation, which is proceeding along. The initial public comment period has ended and substantial revisions are being made to the manifest in response to those comments. A second 15-day public comment period will follow, with an anticipated effective date of the manifest to be January 1, 2013. Also, inedible kitchen grease transporter applicants will need to provide a carrier identification number and motor carrier permit for 2013. If the transporter does not provide these items, which are required by the state vehicle code, CDFA can notify the California Highway Patrol.

Prior to adjourning, the advisory board developed a subcommittee for enforcement ideas and targeted early March 2013 for their next meeting following the Pacific Coast Renderers Association convention.

December 2012 RENDER | back