China: Illegal cooking oil

By Deng Zhuoxin

What would you do if your favorite dish used cooking oil that had rat droppings or human waste in it? Well, it is possible, but one organization, Koubei, gives people a way to select “No Illegal Cooking Oil” restaurants.

Earlier this year, Koubei which is an organization of Alipay, asked restaurants to participate in the “No Illegal Cooking Oil” program. On the first day of the campaign, more than 10,000 restaurants joined, and Guangzhou reached 2,000 restaurants.

“Food safety is the most popular concern. We (Koubei) hope that the open and transparent internet platform can help customers find ‘No Illegal Cooking Oil’ restaurants,” said Fan Chi, the CEO of Koubei.

Xuan He, the head of Koubei customer service, said that a rectangle sticker with the statement of “No Illegal Cooking Oil” is shown on the restaurant’s recommendation after the dining establishment provides a written commitment to join the action.

According to this commitment, if the restaurant is reported to use oil illegally, it will face a series of punishments including deleting the sticker, removing the company from Koubei, and handing any violation over to the industrial and commercial department and law enforcement department.

What is the penalty under the law?

Article 58 of Food Safety Law stipulates, “If the price of illegal using is less than ¥10,000, the offender shall be fined ¥2000 to ¥50,000; If the price of illegal using is more than ¥10,000, the offender shall be fined more than five times and less than 10 times; If the circumstances are serious, its license shall be revoked.”

The majority of these restaurants joining Koubei are members of chains. “Once our main restaurant signs the commitment, then the branches will have the stickers,” the vice manager of Aqiangsuancai Fish Restaurant, Huang Chengzhao, said. Some branches of Grandma’s Home, LuYu Restaurant, and other famous chain restaurants also followed.

Even though most of the customers support this action, some people still treated this action skeptically. The reason is that it is hard to verify a processed oil quickly and easily.

Huang Fulong, an expert at Jinan University, leads research on spectrometry of rapid oil determination. The group detects oil via different wavebands and wavelengths in which different oil can reflect different data. He said that so far the definition of the illegal cooking oil is vague.

For instance, how many times the oil used to fry can be defined as illegal cooking oil?

“If the database is comprehensive, we can detect the oil in one or two seconds like an electronic thermometer,” Huang said.

It seems like all weapons are in place, but they cannot take aim at the target.At present, testing an oil sample costs ¥300-¥500. China has millions of restaurants, and the government cannot bear the cost to investigate every restaurant. Also, the time and manpower would be too huge to undertake.

Wang Yong, an expert at Jinan University in oil science, said, “The price of illegal cooking oil is about ¥6,000 per ton, but the regular oil is double the price at about ¥13,000 per ton. Thus, when some restaurants cut the price, you’d better be on the alert.”

With technology developing rapidly, some wrong-doers process the illegal cooking oil to satisfy the standards. Therefore, illegal cooking oil becomes much harder to detect, and testing cannot entirely prevent it reentering the market. Only with the professional test can it be separated out from normal oil. The naked eye cannot distinguish the illegal cooking oil and normal oil from its color, its smell, and its transparency.

“Oftentimes, heated low-grade oil does harm to the human’s body. The products of high-temperature cracking are likely to cause cancer,” said He Yingqiang, a nutritional expert in China.

“The great majority of food poisoning is from uncooked lentils and industrial salt. Because illegal cooking oil cannot have an immediate reaction, and only accumulating to a certain extent it may cause diseases.”

Eating unhealthy oil once or twice time just will make customers have stomach aches and nausea. More that, however, it can cause serious illnesses, such as heart disease.

Zeng Fanbin, an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Jinan University, said he thinks that both media and government should supervise the use of illegal cooking oil through a strong legal policy. For example, if a restaurant is found to have used illegal oil, it should be shut down permanently.

As Zeng put it, “if the illegal oil public agenda could be a media agenda, and the media agenda could be government agenda, this problem could be dealt efficiently and thoroughly.”

The vice manager of Aqiangsuancai Fish Restaurant Huang said, “Recently, the City Street Office gave every restaurant special barrels for disposing of oil, which is taken away at midnight. We have random inspection by the Health Department and Supervision and Quarantine Authorities to verify our hygiene situations.” But the expert Wang indicated that “the recycling system is incomplete, and the related companies are inadequate to reproduce recycled oil.”

For example, Japan has an integrated system to stop oil flowing into underground drains. The processes including professional companies recycling the waste oil and carrying out a strict protocol, which includes agreements about the transportation distances, personnel, and vehicles used.

“‘Prevent,’ ‘punish’ and ‘recycle’ should be working together to solve this problem fundamentally,” Wang said.

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