The recent bust of an illegal cooking oil production facility in nearby Anning illustrates how even the oil in which food is cooked can be more dangerous to diners than the food itself.
Police officials in Anning, 30 kilometers west of Kunming, are reporting that the illegal workshop was producing digouyou (地沟油, 'gutter oil') by processing "rotten animal entrails and low-quality meat" into an oily product that after bleaching and deodorization was used to prepare dishes in Kunming restaurants.
In only two months, the facility produced nearly 50 tons of the oil for the Kunming market.
According to Chen Weiyu (陈韦宇), chief of the Langjiazhuang police station in Anning, police were tipped off regarding the existence of a suspected illegal "gutter oil" operation in a nearby mountain pass on September 16. At 8pm that night, police raided the facility, arresting several workers, Chen said.
Chen added that although the workshop's employees initially insisted that the oil they produced was to be used in animal feed, the boss of the operation, surnamed Cheng, told police that the oil was transported to illegal "refining" facilities in Kunming where bleaching and deodorization work was done before the oil was resold to local restaurants.
Five people have been arrested in Anning in connection to the case. It is not yet clear if the investigation has been extended into the Kunming-based refining facilities.
How big a problem is so-called gutter oil? A recent Xinhua article entitled "Our kitchens must be freed from gutter oil" puts it rather bluntly:
"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."
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