Gutter oil: an overview of Chinese food safety issues and policies

Food safety has become a focus of attention worldwide. In China, one of the top concerns in food safety is gutter oil, known as ‘swill-cooked oil.’

gutter.oil.wayne's.worldThis Commentary summarizes the key incidents disclosed to the public by the media, and the policies regarding gutter oil at national, regional, and provincial or city levels.

Several challenges the country still faces in tackling this issue are identified, including a lack of evaluation of the implementation and effect of the policies, a lack of effective technology to detect and recycle gutter oil, and the overlooking of the hazardous effect of gutter oil on health.

This commentary suggests that strengthening policy implementation and evaluation, improving measurement and recycling technologies, and launching public health campaigns would help eliminate gutter oil from dining tables.

Gutter oil: an overview of Chinese food safety issues and policies

Global Health Promotion

Jia Li1,2, Naizue Cui2, Jianghong Liu2

1School of Medicine, Jinhua Polytechnic College, Jinhua, Zhejiang,

  • China
  • 2School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

Food fraud detection: Chinese team develops new method for rapid authentication of edible oils and screening of gutter oils

The Food Safety and Technology Research Centre under the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has developed a new method for rapid authentication of edible oils and screening of gutter oils. Authentication of edible oils has been a long-term issue in food safety, and becomes particularly important with the emergence and widespread use of gutter oils in recent years. However, the conventional analytical approach for edible oils is not only labor intensive and time consuming, but also fails to provide a versatile solution for screening of gutter oils. By setting up a simple analytical protocol and a spectral library of edible oils, the new approach is able to determine the authenticity of a labeled edible oil sample and hence screened gutter oils within five minutes.

1-polyudevelopThe conventional approach for edible oil authentication involves labor-intensive and time-consuming sample pretreatment and the subsequent chromatographic separation to separate complex sample mixture before mass spectrometric detection, a commonly used technology for identification and quantitation of chemical compounds. The whole process takes a few hours to analyze one sample. On the other hand, identification of gutter oils mainly involves detection of certain food residue markers or toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in the sample. However, due to the vast diversity of gutter oils, and the fact that target compounds could be removed by processing, a universal strategy to screen gutter oils is not available at present.

PolyU researchers have developed a simplified method for direct analysis of edible oils using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS). In the new MALDI-MS approach, only simple sample preparation, automatic data acquisition and simple data processing are involved. High quality and highly reproducible MALDI-MS spectra results can be obtained using this method, and a preliminary spectral database of labeled edible oils available in the market has been set up. Since different types of edible oils have different MALDI-MS spectral patterns, the authenticity of an edible oil sample can then be determined within five minutes by comparing its MALDI-MS spectrum with those of its labeled oil in the established database. Since this method is capable of authenticating edible oils, it also enables a rapid screening of gutter oils, given fraudulent mislabeling is a common feature of gutter oils.

The related paper has been recently published on Analytica Chimica Acta, a leading journal in Analytical Chemistry. The research team will establish a more complete MALDI spectral library of various edible oils in the coming two years, and improve the library searching technique. In addition, more testing of edible oil samples with different MALDI-MS equipment will be carried out to further validate the new approach.

Harsher than U.S.; is a suspended death sentence enough for a Chinese gutter oil dealer?

“Gutter oil” is, according to Time, one of the most revolting substances in the culinary pantheon. It sprang from the ingenuity of Chinese entrepreneurs, who fished out used cooking oil from drains, sewers and trash cans, decanted it into fresh bottles and sold it to an unsuspecting public.

On Jan. 7, the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court in eastern China handed out a suspended death sentence to a mastermind of one of the largest gutter-oil schemes ever Police inspect illegal cooking oil, bettrecorded, worth more than $8 million in illicit sales. (A suspended death sentence usually means the convict escapes execution if no further crimes are committed.)

Seven others were sentenced to between five and 15 years in jail for the cooking-oil deception, according to state newswire Xinhua. In China’s lively microblog sphere, a slim consensus felt that the gutter-oil judgment was not harsh enough. Wrote one outraged person: “Criminals involved in food-safety issues should be sentenced to death and immediately executed.”

Just this week, abattoir workers in southern China were nabbed for injecting up to 6 kg of filthy pond water into each lamb carcass in order to bulk up its weight — and therefore price — at market. Last week, Walmart admitted that five-spiced donkey-meat treats sold in some of its Chinese stores were tainted by the addition of fox flesh. (Donkey is a common enough protein in northern China, but fox is not widely consumed.) Last fall, aficionados of skewered meat in Shanghai discovered the lamb they were savoring was actually rat.

The latest gutter-oil plot sprang from the minds of three brothers in eastern Shandong province, according to Xinhua. Beginning in 2006, the trio began selling dirty cooking oil to 17 dealers in two highly populated provinces. In October, in eastern Jiangsu province, a man was condemned to life imprisonment for using inedible animal fat, along with chicken feathers and fox fur, among other unusual substances, to bulk out the cooking oil he sold to more than 100 companies.

100 arrested in Chinese gutter oil food scandal

Chinese officials say they have arrested more than 100 people suspected of making "gutter oil," illegal cooking oil made from waste and sold to restaurants.

In a food safety crackdown, 13 underground workshops were shut down and more than 3,584 tons of "gutter oil" were seized, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"Gutter oil" is made by taking used up cooking oil, often left over from restaurants, along with spent animal fat, and reprocessing it into edible oil to be sold to restaurants.

Investigators found suspects used not only waste fat and oil, but also fat from rotten meat and slaughterhouse waste.