Saturday, 29 December 2012

Greasy Possibility

Apple Daily broke the story about gutter oil in Hong Kong
Many people I meet ask me about the big news in Hong Kong, but they already now about it from Chinese media in Vancouver.

Top of mind? Gutter oil.

They hear reports about used cooking oil that is collected from restaurants and then purified and resold at a much cheaper price.

While we appreciate the idea of recycling, gutter oil contains carcinogens created in the combustion process and so it should not be used again.

When I was living in Beijing a few years ago, I already read and heard stories about cases of gutter oil in China. The basic rule of thumb was to avoid places that sold dishes very cheap.

And perhaps it was only a matter of time before gutter oil came to Hong Kong; rising commercial rents have forced restaurateurs to cut corners and the quality of oil may be an alternative solution for some.

Apparently there is a way to test gutter oil -- if you drop a garlic clove into some hot oil and it turns red, then it's not oil you want to be enjoying.

If you're eating in a restaurant? If the dish should have garlic in it and cannot be found, then perhaps the oil is suspect...

In any event Apple Daily in Hong Kong was the first to expose the alleged use of gutter oil in the city, raising people's fears since the vast majority of the population eat out.

In an attempt to allay fears, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man reported test samples were taken from 13 restaurants that apparently used gutter oil processed from a factory in Kwai Chung.

The Food and Environment Hygiene Department raided the unlicensed factory, which, according to local media reports, has been in operation for 10 years. The company apparently sold the reprocessed oil for one-third of the market price of regular cooking oil.

In the end the FEHD found that of the 39 gutter oil samples, four from the Kwai Chung plant were found to be carcinogenic.

So while the Hong Kong government is trying to assuage residents' fears, it hasn't work well.

There are reports some restaurants are experiencing a 90 percent drop in business, perhaps the victims of rumours that their eatery uses gutter oil.

We would like to think Hong Kong restaurants would not use gutter oil, but with ever-rising commercial rents and profit margins getting thinner and thinner, the possibility should not be underestimated.

The government really needs to step up its inspection of tens of thousands of dining establishments, big and small to get customer confidence back; eating out is a big contributor to Hong Kong's economy.

Or perhaps it's good to know more people are cooking their own food. But knowing Hong Kong people, that won't last too long...

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