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Our kitchens must be freed from gutter oil

(Global Times)

09:13, September 14, 2011

In a nationwide crackdown by the Ministry of Public Security, 32 suspects were arrested for making and selling illegal cooking oil.

This gutter oil, made from restaurant leftovers and collected from sewers, is widely present across the market. Some estimates put the annual figure of such oil at 2.25 mln tons. To put it another way, there is a chance you will eat gutter oil once in every 10 times you eat out in China. Among the food safety scandals plaguing China, illegal cooking oil probably affects the largest number of consumers.

The massive illegal cooking oil ring, reportedly expanding across 14 provinces, suggests the huge demand and profitability of the business. Stricter supervision and harsher penalties are necessary to deter would-be violators but are the measures enough to block all the loopholes?

To begin with Chinese dishes consume more cooking oil than other cuisines, especially fried and stir-fried dishes. Fish fillets in hot chili oil, an extremely popular Sichuan dish, use a whole basin of cooking oil per serving. Deep-fried dough sticks, a favorite breakfast choice across China, is made in a huge wok full of repeatedly used cooking oil.

Meanwhile, Chinese food is also known for its cheapness and eating out is an affordable option for most people. Many Chinese consumers are price-sensitive, resulting in a plethora of cheap restaurants. The dual demand for taste and price have helped create huge room for illegal cooking oil.

Unless there is a revolutionary change to the Chinese cooking style, it will be a lasting challenge to the supervisory departments to eradicate illegal cooking oil.

While stronger supervision is crucial to reducing the use of gutter oil, effective supervision requires manpower and administrative costs. With that in mind, reducing the profit margin of the gutter oil industry may be another solution.

Gutter oil should be destined for industrial use, not restaurants. But businessmen will make a rational choice between the cost of violating the law and the potential for profit. Business ethics will not be automatically applied to them, at least not at this early stage of development.

In this sense, adjusting the price of recycled oil for industrial use can reduce the allure of trading gutter oil to restaurants, if not wipe the trade out completely.


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