Hot commodity: Rochester restaurants robbed by grease thieves

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Used cooking oil has become a hot item for thieves.

Theft of restaurant grease is a national problem that has now hit southeastern Minnesota. The Rochester Post Bulletin reports more than $1,500 worth of grease from Rochester restaurants was stolen in the past week.

Austin's ABC 6 explains restaurants that no longer have a use for the used frying grease turn around and sell it to a company called Midwest Grease. That company removes it from bins or barrels at the restaurants and recycles it, then sells the oil to bio-diesel companies. The product is then used in diesel fuel, animal feed or jet fuel.

But when Midwest Grease arrived to pick up the grease on Sunday, it was missing. Up to 7,000 pounds was stolen from five Rochester restaurants.

"If we were able to locate the persons responsible, the individual would be charged with a felony theft the amount is such that it would qualify for a felony related crime,” said Capt. John Sherwin of the Rochester Police Department. He told the station this is a first such theft in Rochester, but the problem has become widespread elsewhere.

In May, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported numerous Texas restaurants have been hit by "a ragtag swarm of thieves" who siphon the gunk from storage tanks and make off with oil worth thousands of dollars per truckload.

"Liquid gold, some in the trade call it," the story said, noting that licensed collectors use surveillance cameras, extra-heavy metal lids and off-duty cops to thwart the illegal grease grabbers.

The Los Angeles Register cited the senior legislative director for the California Restaurant Association, who said that restaurants across the state collectively lose millions of dollars a year because of the frying oil bandits.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported California passed a new law to address the problem. It will apply stiffer penalties for oil thieves and increase roadside inspections. California law already requires anyone transporting used kitchen oil to carry registration.

Expect to hear more about this. The Fort Worth newspaper story said that the grease war has become so aggressive that a dozen production companies are looking into creating a reality TV show about the situation.

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