Waste oil used for 10% of all meals in China

Checks tightened on food service providers

20 March 2010

China’s food safety inspectors are stepping up checks following reports that recycled cooking oil is being used to prepare one in 10 meals.

The State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) issued the order on Thursday to step up inspections of all food service providers and vowed to punish manufacturers of ‘drainage oil’, or cooking oil refined from discarded kitchen waste.

The operations of food service providers will be halted immediately if they use illegal cooking oil or oil of an unknown origin. Their licences could also be revoked, said the order posted on the administration’s website.

The China Daily reported that as much as one-tenth of the cooking oil used in China could be made from recycled kitchen or restaurant waste oil, which contains a highly toxic, carcinogenic substance called aflatoxin.

It quoted a food science expert as telling the China Youth Daily that people in China consume ‘about 2 million to 3 million tonnes’ of illegal cooking oil every year.

‘And the Chinese people’s annual oil consumption is about 22.5 million tonnes, which means a ratio of one to 10,’ said Professor He Dongping of the Wuhan Polytechnic University.

According to Prof He, the illegal cooking oil business is extremely profitable as the cost of buying food waste and refining it is low.

‘One tonne of cooking oil made from kitchen waste costs only 300 yuan (S$61). A barrel of oil makes a profit of 70 to 80 yuan. On average, one person collects four barrels. Even if the oil is sold at half the price of ordinary oil, you could make over 10,000 yuan a month. Even a menial worker in the business gets a monthly wage of 2,500 yuan,’ he told China Youth Daily.

The data came from a project the professor and his students were conducting to find an effective way to detect and identify illegal oil used in food production.

The China Daily quoted one of Prof He’s colleagues at the university as saying that the project had been going on for several years, and that his students had received threats from illegal dealers.

Most of the illegal cooking oil in Wuhan was sold to less-developed areas in the city, where regulations were not too strict, a source with friends in the food business told China Daily.

‘Regulating illegal cooking oil involves several government departments, and the SFDA is concerned only with the restaurants,’ an official with the SFDA said.

Quality inspection departments and the Ministry of Health keep oversight of the production process. The monitoring of illegal cooking oil in the market comes under the State Administration of Industry and Commerce.

China’s food industry has produced several food safety scares in the past few years.

In 2008, the country’s dairy industry was rocked by a tainted-milk scandal that the government said resulted in the deaths of six babies and caused another 300,000 to fall sick.

Reports have emerged recently that some of the tainted dairy products, which were contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, had re-emerged on the market. The government has said the problem has been contained.


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