Proper Oil Management Techniques for Every Fast-Food Restaurant

    Filtering oil boils down to quality and economics.

    Two men choose food in a fast food restaurant.
    Adobe Stock
    Edible oil prices continue to rise across the country.

    Nothing satisfies fast food consumers like crisp french fries, succulent chicken tenders and savory onion rings. Most comfort foods require one key ingredient: frying oil. However, cooking oil breaks down over time and at a certain point, starts negatively affecting the quality of food if left unchecked. Oil consumption has always been one of the most important factors for fast-food operators, especially in a climate of rising cooking oil prices and inflation. Let’s take a closer look at proper oil management techniques that can increase quality and your bottom line.

    Negative Impacts of Poor Oil Quality

    Continuing the use of old frying oil or in essence stretching oil beyond its useful life has several negative impacts. The most important being the effect it has on the quality of the fried products. As old oil breaks down, it absorbs into the food, causing it to have a darker appearance and rancid taste/smell, and making it unappealing to guests.

    When rotating or “cascading” oil with multiple fry vats, operators often run into bad operational practices with team members using old oil to top off fry vats containing new, clean oil. This will cause the new oil to turn dark and break down quicker.

    Using old oil also has adverse health effects. Old oil has high TPM (Total Polar Material) and FFA (Free Fatty Acid) levels that are proven to be carcinogenic. In some countries, a TPM reading exceeding 25 percent or more is considered unhealthy. Operators who are frying food in oil with high TPM levels can be held liable by local governments or agencies. 

    Knowing how and when to change the oil before it goes bad is often an ongoing debate and subjective with some operators who are trying to reduce frying costs. Using the oil too long negatively impacts the food quality. Conversely, changing the oil too soon will increase frying costs. Ideally having a frying oil management SOP that makes it known by back of house staffers when to discard the oil. 

    Gain Control of the Rising Cost of Edible Fry Oil

    Edible oil prices continue to rise across the country. Currently canola oil is running between $43 to $45 per 35-pound jug … around $1.25 per pound. Soy blend is about $1 per jug. These prices are up steeply from two years ago, when oil was selling for $28 to $32 per jug. Since oil prices are expected to continue to rise, and fry oil can be as much as 10 percent of food costs, it is a commodity that needs to be conserved and stretched as long as possible. An oil management program that is strategically and scientifically designed, can reduce oil consumption by more than 50 percent. This can mean huge savings for food service facilities. 

    Operators in many cases do not know the proper time to discard oil. Many variables need to be taken into consideration. There are tools and methods that can render an objective determination of the oil quality. Obvious signs of oil degradation include oil that is smoking, foaming or soaping, as well as finished products that taste bad. Long before these signs become apparent, it is important to know the total polar materials (TPM) or free fatty acid (FFA) levels of the oil. When TPM exceeds 25 percent or FFA exceeds 2 percent, the oil should be discarded. A di-electric TPM meter can cost up to $500, but relatively inexpensive free fatty acid test strips (3M Low Level 2.5 FFA) can be used after oil is filtered to gauge oil’s chemistry.

    To extend oil life, and reduce your oil cost, try the following steps:

    • Routine filtering of oil after each meal period through the most advanced media in the industry
    • Calibrate fryer temperatures to not exceed 350 degree F
    • Minimize the amount of ice crystals or water that enters the fry zone
    • Skim debris from the fry oil


    Benefits of Proper Oil Management Program

    Replacing the oil on a calendar or scheduled frequency whether needed or not can result in higher frying and food costs. There are instances when the oil is replaced instead of filtering. These instances can include not having working filtration equipment, labor, or even the capability to mechanically filter. Instead, the oil is discarded and replaced with new oil. The only advantage to replacing oil … the food/oil quality is optimized at the expense of higher oil usage and frying costs.

    The “sweet spot” of oil is achieved when the quality of the finished fried product is not too light or dark in color, and has perfect flavor and texture. When oil is filtered, the sweet spot is extended, and food/oil quality is optimal longer than when constantly changing/replacing the oil. Typically, when oil is filtered at least once per day, the oil life can span 7 days with a five-day sweet spot. When oil is just replaced and not filtered, oil life is only about two-three days with a one-day sweet spot. 

    Simply put, filtering oil boils down to quality and economics. The best cooking oil filtering practices lead to better tasting foods, bring in more customers, and ultimately result in higher profits.

    Corby Stow is the Director of Business Development at Oil Solutions Group (OSG). Oil Solutions Group was founded to provide extended oil life solutions to the foodservice Industry. OSG designs and sells only best-in-class products that improve oil quality to more than double oil life, provide greater sustainability by reducing waste, improve flavor profile and reduce top-line oil cost. For more info, visit