Scandal surrounding 'gutter oil' continues to disgust and worry

  • Health
  • Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014

What's in the cooking oil? Hong Kong is shocked and concerned over the oil scandal. - AFP

The recent discovery of tainted cooking oil containing oil collected from fryers and grease traps is worrying Hong Kong.

If you are in the midst of a fry-up, making any meal, or thinking of going out for a bite, you may want to save this story for later.  

Those who have been keeping up with the Taiwanese gutter oil scandal would be happy to know that Taiwanese authorities have detained Kuo Lieh-chen, the owner of the illegal factory suspected to be behind the food safety scare over recycled cooking oil. The oil, officials say, was supplied to more than 900 restaurants and bakeries.

A leading oil manufacturer unknowingly bought 243 tonnes of tainted oil, mixed it and sold it as cooking oil, says report.

“As he is likely to flee or conspire with other suspects, we decided to take him into custody,” says Pan Cheng-ping, a spokesman for the Pingtung district court.

The Food and Drug Administration states that 933 restaurants, bakeries and food plants, including 397 in Taipei city, had used the tainted oil supplied by Chang Guann Co, a leading food oil manufacturer.

Investigators found that in six months from February, Chang Guann had bought 243 tonnes of tainted oil – collected from cookers, fryers and grease traps – from Kuo and mixed it with lard oil for sale to its customers.

Street food is seen in the Central district of Hong Kong. Pineapple buns and dumplings have been pulled from the shelves in Hong Kong as authorities investigate whether they contain gutter oil from Taiwan, where concerns are growing over a food safety scare, say officials. – AFP

A total of 782 tonnes of such oils had been produced. Chang Guann has apologised but said it was unaware the oil were recycled. Wei Chuan Foods Corp, the Taiwanese unit of Ting Hsin International Group, which owns the Master Kong instant noodle brand, says it has recalled twelve types of products including meat paste and pork floss, which may have used the recycled oil.

So far the authorities have seized 49 tonnes of suspected recycled oil from Chang Guann after inspecting the company and have ordered all companies it supplies to recall products that may contain the tainted oil.

The scandal has now spread to Hong Kong. With the Mid-autumn Festival in full swing, Hong Kong is concerned. A spokeswoman for the Centre for Food Safety says that labs are conducting tests on mooncakes from retailers across the city.

So far, pineapple buns and dumplings have been pulled from the shelves as authorities investigate whether they contain gutter oil from Taiwan, officials say. Products suspected to be tainted were also pulled from shelves and food safety experts are ramping up spot checks.

Philip Ho, an officer from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, tells a Hong Kong radio station that dozens of food samples had been taken with results expected in the next few days.

“The investigation is ongoing. After we spotted the problem, we have been trying to contact food operators such as importers and bakeries,” Ho says.

Hong Kong is concerned over food since the Taiwanese oil scandal. Some food manufacturers are recalling their products in Hong Kong, even when no evidence the lard oil was used, to be extra cautious. – AFP

Popular bakery chain Maxim’s Cakes removed pineapple buns from their shelves over the weekend after confirming they had used oil from Chang Guann, the Taiwanese oil manufacturer at the heart of the scandal.

The chain says there is no evidence that the lard oil used to make the buns contained tainted products, but it was removing them anyway “to be ultra cautious on food safety”. It has since switched to a Dutch supplier.

Dumpling eatery chain Bafang Yunji also pulled its curry dumplings, reports local broadcaster RTHK, while supermarket Wellcome removed two products, a BBQ sauce and a noodle dish, from its shelves.

The Centre for Food Safety says it is liasing with Taiwanese authorities, adding that it is prioritising checks on “cooking oil, bakeries, dim sum manufacturers and snacks shops selling Taiwanese-style food”.

The scandal is the second food safety scare to hit Hong Kong this year.

In July, McDonald’s suspended sales of chicken nuggets and several other items after admitting it imported food from a US-owned firm in China at the centre of an expired meat scandal.

Shoppers in Hong Kong said they were increasingly concerned about the safety of food, especially imported with products.

"It’s definitely a problem as it could be really bad for your health," says Simon Cheung, a 50-year-old father of two. "I reckon the problem is not small even if they (retailers) say so." – AFP

Gutter oil: the making

Using recycled oil is not new. In China, the problem has led to stricter measures imposed on food. However, it is believed that the practice continues.

Here is a video that shows how recycled oil is made in China. Warning, you may lose your lunch or appetite for a while after watching it.

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