Nutrition-wise blog

Don't ruin Thanksgiving with plumbing problems

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. November 8, 2016

A few years back while preparing Thanksgiving dinner I suddenly found myself with a huge mess. The garbage disposal erupted and become inoperable. Our holiday meal was nearly cancelled.

I was reminded of this when a friend recently asked me to put together some tips for her condo association. Apparently they want to prevent costly emergency plumbing calls during the holidays.

Here's a summary of tips from plumbing and garbage disposal experts:


  • Don't put the following down the drain: bones, grease, fat (drippings and trimmings from meats), fibrous foods (corn husks and silk, artichokes, household plants), and non-biodegradable items (stickers on produce, paper). Throw them in the trash instead.
  • Don't fill the disposer and then turn it on. Instead, with the disposal is on and cold water running, slowly feed small scraps into the grinder.
  • Don't put too much in the disposal at one time. Large amounts of rice, pasta, potatoes, starchy beans, egg shells, fruit pits and coffee grounds can overtax the disposal's motor.
  • Don't turn off the motor until the food is completely ground up. You should hear only the sound of water and the motor running.
  • Don't use harsh draining cleaning chemicals. Only use a degreaser that is recommended by the disposer's manufacturer.


  • Run cold water into your sink for a few seconds before turning on the disposal. Cold water helps keep waste solid so it can more easily flush through pipes. Hot water liquefies fat but it can congeal later and cause clogged pipes.
  • Run cold water throughout the disposing process and for about 15 seconds after you have turned off the disposal to flush out any remaining bits.
  • After disposing of a substantial amount of food and with the grinder off: Place the stopper in the drain and fill the sink half full with cold water. Pull the plug and turn the disposer on to thoroughly flush the drain line. You can add 1/4 cup of baking soda to water to degrease and deodorize.
  • To deodorize, grind up small pieces of citrus fruits, such as lemons or oranges.

Wouldn't it be better just to put food waste to the trash? Not necessarily. Decomposing food waste in landfills creates methane gas. Food waste sent down disposals flows to water treatment plants where it can be processed along with other organic solids. However, not all treatment plants have the capability to capture the methane and convert it into renewable energy.

What to do? Composting is perhaps the best choice, if that option is available to you. In any case, try to reduce the amount of food you waste by preparing appropriate amounts and using your leftovers. This reduces what you toss — or grind.

I hope that these guidelines will keep unexpected visitors away on Thanksgiving — and you'll be doing something good for the environment.

- Jennifer

Nov. 08, 2016