“Well-Organized” Thieves Target Restaurants' Used Kitchen Grease

It can’t be eaten or reused, but kitchen grease is fueling a major crime spike in Southern California.

Much like copper, inedible kitchen grease, or IKG, has a commodity value and a full truck load of the used cooking oil could fetch as much as $600 at a grease recycling center.

A gallon of the grease is worth about $2.50, according to a corporate security expert who requested to remain anonymous because those behind the thefts he’s investigating have made death threats.

"This is more than just a few casual thieves stealing cooking oil randomly," he said, calling the rings "well-organized."

Restaurants and companies are losing millions of dollars due to theft and container damage by grease thieves, who syphon the slippery gunk from storage containers at the rear of restaurants, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Aside from the business loss, officials said grease theft is a potentially hazardous to the environment because as thieves transport their loot, the oil could leak and spill onto streets and into soil.

California Assemblyman Chris Holden is sponsoring a bill to levy heavy fines for those trying to steal used kitchen grease. Right now, it’s an unregulated industry.

Authorities have outlined what witnesses should look for if they suspect IKG theft:

  • Pumper trucks often with no markings on the side. Trucks are required by California law to have a company name and IKG sticker issued by the state affixed to the truck.
  • Trucks cruising alleys behind businesses late at night.
  • Trucks pumping from containers belonging to other companies. The containers behind the businesses are labeled with the name of the company that services them. The container ID and company name on the truck should match.

A $500 reward has been posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of IKG thieves.

Anyone who has a suspected grease theft to report is urged to submit their tips by filling out this online form, emailing HitGreaseTheft@cdfa.ca.gov or calling 855-HIT-GREASE.

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