Every year, Chinese people consume more than 22 million tones of cooking oil. Now, it might be hard for them to swallow the fact that one tenth of that oil could be oil recycled from waste drainages. Here’s more on this latest food scandal in China.
Every year, people in China consume between two to three million tones of recycled oil, also known as “drainage oil,” according to a Chinese food science expert. In a country where 22.5 million tones of oil is consumed each year, that’s one tenth of their entire consumption.
The substandard cooking oil is refined from discarded kitchen and restaurant waste. Some of it is scooped out from underground waste drainages.
Professor He Dongping from Wuhan Polytechnic University has been studying the use of drainage oil for seven years. He recently told state-run China Youth Daily that recycling oil has become a lucrative business in China.
Waste oil is cheap to refine, and is half the price of normal cooking oil. A study by Professor He’s students found the oil recycler can make about $1500 U.S. dollars a month—as much as a well-paid white collar worker.
Drainage oil is bought by street vendors and local restaurants that are cutting down on costs.
Drainage oil is cheap, but it can be costly to consumers’ health. One of the main chemicals found in recycled oil is aflatoxin. It’s a cancer causing agent, and 100 times more toxic than arsenic.
Chinese food safety authorities issued a stern warning to food service providers last week. If they are found using drainage oil or buying oil from an unclear source, their business will be halted.
But Professor He says the real problem is the lack of regulation on how to handle and dispose of restaurant waste. Also, the difficulties in testing for recycled oil means this food safety scandal may not go away anytime soon.