A scandal involving the production of food using oil recycled from restaurant waste and slaughterhouse byproducts is currently unfolding in Taiwan and is raising new concerns about food safety enforcement in China. Chang Guann Co., a Taiwanese company, is accused of reprocessing 782 tons of this oil and selling it for use in the production of food. Of that, approximately 645 tons of oil were sold around Taiwan – only 236 tons have been recovered thus far. Taiwanese Food and Drug Administration officials acknowledge that some of the unrecovered oil may have already been consumed.
Recycled oil – colloquially known as “gutter oil” —has emerged as a serious food safety concern in China. The substance is dangerous both because the illegal recycling operations typically have very poor sanitation, and also because the reused oil can contain carcinogens.
Taiwan’s FDA has announced it will pull all products linked to Chang Guann Co. Fourteen of the listed products have been sold overseas, including in the United States. In addition, more than 1,000 companies are reported to be have been affected by the recall, including large US- based retail chains. The Taiwan FDA announced that stores that continue to sell affected products would face a fine up to 3 million Taiwanese dollars, which is equivalent to just under $100,000 US.
The gutter oil scandal is the most recent in a series of food-safety incidents in China: in 2013, several Taiwanese companies were found to have added illegal coloring agents to cooking oils and diluted olive oil with cheaper products; earlier this year, a Chinese subsidiary of a US-based meat supplier was found to be selling expired products; and in 2012 contaminated strawberries infected over 11,000 schoolchildren in Germany with Norovirus.
The gutter oil scandal serves to highlight the concern of the US FDA over the globalization of food production. The FDA has increasingly expanded its focus beyond US borders as it grapples with the fact that other countries produce a growing portion of the food products that US consumers use in their daily lives.