Watch What You Eat: Gutter Oil?

Update 31 Oct 2014: Taiwan minister quits over 'gutter oil' scandal
Legislators from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party displaying placards demanding the opposition lawmakers stop a protest against gutter oil during the new session at the Parliament in Taipei on Sept 12, 2014. Taiwan has fined a leading supplier for selling hundreds of tonnes of "gutter oil" and sparking a food safety scare that gripped the island and spread to Hong Kong and Macau. -- PHOTO: AFP

Taipei - Taiwanese Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta has resigned over the recent food safety scare which saw hundreds of tonnes of products made with "gutter oil" removed from sale.

Mr Chiu had repeatedly offered to step down after the tainted oil case surfaced last month, and his resignation was finally approved by Premier Jiang Yi-huah late last Friday.

Mr Chiu's resignation came as prosecutors indicted Yeh Wen-hsiang, chairman of Chang Guann Co, on 235 accounts of fraud and food safety violations for selling hundreds of tonnes of "gutter oil" to food companies, bakeries and restaurants.

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Gutter oil' king on fraud raps

Tycoon Wei Ying-chung was slapped with nearly 140 fraud-linked charges yesterday linked to Taiwan's "gutter oil" food safety scare, which has seen fallout for Hong Kong and other places.

One of Taiwan's richest men, Wei faces a 30-year jail term if convicted.

Prosecutors in Changhua indicted him on 60 counts of fraud and 79 of aggravated fraud plus violating food safety laws for selling tainted cooking oil.

Gutter Oil For Your Food, Sir?

A news report estimated that 10 per cent of all oil used for cooking in China is gutter oil, including those used by restaurants. This is because it is cheap.

Well, you may ask, “What has that got to do with Singapore?” Unfortunately, it might have a lot to do with Singapore and how our hawker food is being prepared.

Earlier this year, it was reported that some people – who are reported to be Chinese and non Singaporean - were seen pumping out “sewer contents” from opened manholes and drains in Yishun and Jurong. Pictures taken by members of the public of them doing so, uncannily resemble what gutter oil scavengers do back in China.

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NEA is going to be charging two people for the unlicensed collection of oil waste from grease traps near hawker centres.

Mdm Valarie Sim, 50, and Mr Ng Cheng Hock, 48, had been photographed collecting oil waste from drains in Jurong.

They had claimed that they worked for Sky-Land (Oils & Fats), a licensed general waste collector.

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NEA on ‘gutter oil’ scare: Waste oil collected from grease traps sent for biodiesel processing
Yahoo Newsroom - The National Environment Agency (NEA) clarified on Wednesday that February sightings in Jurong of people extracting cooking oil from grease traps serving nearby eateries was in fact sent for processing into biodiesel

The National Environment Agency (NEA) clarified on Wednesday that February sightings in Jurong of people extracting cooking oil from grease traps serving nearby eateries was in fact sent for processing into biodiesel.

Last month, local discussion forums were abuzz with other “gutter oil” sightings in Singapore. In one photo, a man and a woman in civilian clothes were spotted extracting waste oil in Jurong West with the use of an oil drum and tubes. A passerby named Justin sent the video on local site STOMP, saying that he was concerned that the duo was drawing out gutter oil. “Who knows if they’ll use it as cooking oil”, he was quoted as saying.

However NEA said it is still investigating an incident in Toa Payoh earlier this week of two men fleeing from police while they were extracting oil from the grease trap near a food centre in Toa Payoh Lorong 4.

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Waste oil collected from grease traps was for processing into biodiesel: NEA

The National Environment Agency's (NEA) investigation into earlier incidents of individuals extracting used cooking oil from grease traps in Jurong, has revealed that the waste oil collected from the grease traps of eateries was sent for processing into biodiesel.

NEA is now investigating another similar incident in Toa Payoh that took place on March 3.

Food establishments are required to provide grease traps and maintain them regularly through licensed general waste collectors.


Grease trapped

For the past few months, Madam Valerie Sim (above) eked out a living by collecting waste oil from coffee shops in Jurong.

She would wait until the coffee shops were closing and would siphon the oil from grease traps with a co-worker.

Madam Sim, 50, who was paid on a daily basis for her work, said that how much she earned depended on how much oil she brought back to her company, Sky-Land (Oils & Fats), which is a licensed general waste collector.

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NEA investigating ‘gutter oil’ cases

A resident at Lorong 4 Toa Payoh called the police early Monday morning (3 Mar) when he spotted 2 men apparently trying to pump used cooking oil out of a drain.

The 2 fled the scene when the police arrived. They were not caught.

The police have established that they were extracting oil waste – known as gutter oil – from a grease trap which filters sullage from eating places.

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According to Facebook newsfeed, there are many more reported cases of Gutter Oil collection by these PRCs in Singapore. A couple had been spotted pumping out the contents of grease traps in Jurong twice. On Sat (Mar 1), two men were spotted doing the same thing at Yishun.

Just yesterday (Mar 4), the police were called in after men were spotted pumping out contents from a grease trap in Toa Payoh. The NEA has responded that the incident which occurred in Yishun is being investigated.

Will there be a food scare in Singapore resulting in Singaporeans boycotting food stalls with PRC workers?

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NEA looking into gutter oil extraction incident at Toa Payoh Lorong 4
Staff from National Environment Agency-licensed general waste collector J.O.L Environmental at the manhole at Block 73A, Lorong 4 Toa Payoh at 2pm on Monday, after the two men who were seen extracting used cooking oil in the morning disappeared. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is investigating a case involving two men who were seen extracting used cooking oil from a grease trap at Block 73A, Lorong 4 Toa Payoh on Monday.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, an NEA spokesman said that its investigations into earlier incidents in Jurong, where a couple had been seen pumping out the contents of grease traps serving eateries nearby, revealed that the waste oil collected was sent for processing into biodiesel.

Food establishments are required to provide grease traps and maintain them regularly by engaging licensed general waste collectors.

Possible use of gutter oil in Singapore food industries
It has come to the attention of the public about gutter oil possibly prepared and sold by PRCs in Singapore as mentioned in online reports.

Gutter oil is a type of oil used for cooking, made from recycled garbage, sewer waste and animal by-products. It is apparently very common in China, particularly in street food and in cheap, unregulated restaurants.

It was estimated that up to 10% of all cooking oil in China is made from gutter oil even though the use of such hazardous oil is illegal.

Two men, believed to be Chinese nationals have been seen by Singaporeans on numerous occasions pumping the contents of sewers and taking it away. On one occaision a woman was seen working with them.

The men do not appear to be maintenance workers and they were usually seen parking a lorry near a manhole, quickly gathering the contents of the sewers then going off in their lorry again.

When the men were quizzed by passers by, they did not respond and quickly packed up their things and left. It is still unknown what the men are doing with the sewer contents and the National Environment Agency said that it is looking to the cases.

Collecting gutter oil? Same couple spotted pumping contents from sewers again in Jurong

The couple that was spotted pumping out contents from the sewers in Jurong previously was seen yet again doing the same yesterday (Feb 20) -- also in the Jurong area.

Stomper Bolicat, stumbling upon this last evening at about 6p.m., is worried about the possibility of 'gutter oil' being used in Singapore.

It is a method of making oil prevalent in China's street food stalls and restaurants, by processing from rubbish and the contents inside sewers.

Couple pumping out sewer contents in Jurong on two occasions: NEA is investigating matter

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is currently investigating two incidents whereby a couple was seen pumping out contents from sewers in the Jurong area.

This response comes in light of reports from Stomper Bolicat andJustin, who spotted the couple collecting sewers' contents on two different occasions.

They also raised concerns regarding the possibility of gutter oil beng used in Singapore.


Is gutter oil sneaking its way into Singapore?

Two men are being investigated by the NEA after they were seen multiple times pumping the sewer contents from drains and man holes in Jurong and Yishun.

Gutter oil is a type of oil used for cooking, made from recycled garbage, sewer waste and animal by-products. It is apparently very common in China, particularly in street food and in cheap, unregulated restaurants.

Gutter oil in China

Earlier this year, it was reported that some people – who are reported to be Chinese and non-Singaporean – were seen pumping out “sewer contents” from opened manholes and drains in Yishun and Jurong.

It would be quite shocking if it was found to be true that they were harvesting used and discarded oil by-products from sewers and drains for recycling and re-use.

With a foreign labour explosion in the last few years, and the proliferation of food outlets, especially the ubiquitous hawker centers and coffee shops, there is a need for the authorities to keep an even keener eye on matters.

You may never eat street food in China again after watching this video
This still from the below video shows a Chinese restaurant using cooking oil. (YouTube)

China's food safety problems have no better symbol than the illegal and utterly disgusting problem of gutter oil. Cooking oil is used heavily in Chinese food, so some street vendors and hole-in-the-wall restaurants buy cheap, black market oil that's been recycled from garbage. You read that correctly. Enterprising men and women will go through dumpsters, trash bins, gutters and even sewers, scooping out liquid or solid refuse that contains used oil or animal parts. Then they process that into cooking oil, which they sell at below-market rates to food vendors who use it to cook food that can make you extremely sick.

This video, produced by Radio Free Asia, shows in excruciating detail how a couple of gutter oil vendors go about their work. It starts with the couple scooping sewage out of the ground, and it ends with unwitting Chinese consumers chowing down on the end product:

To reiterate, this is illegal, something that Chinese authorities are trying to stop and not used by all street vendors. But it's also thought to be widespread. Being reprocessed garbage and sewage, gutter oil contains all sorts of untold carcinogens. Many of the operations, like the one shown in the video, are small-time. But there's enough money to be made that some producers go much bigger.

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‘Gutter Oil’ Video Goes Viral

Radio Free Asia’s shocking video exposé on China’s black market production of “gutter oil” has gone viral on social media and websites around the world. The video, part of RFA’s investigative series on food safety in China, has reached more than 1.3 million views on YouTube, while news organizations, bloggers, and social media users have picked it up and shared it online with their audiences, networks, and friends.

“China’s ongoing struggle with food safety is obviously an issue of major concern for our audience in China, as well as people around the world,” said Libby Liu, President of Radio Free Asia.“The popularity of RFA’s video demonstrates the want and need for investigative reporting, especially in places that, like China, aggressively restrict press freedoms.”

The video, originally produced by RFA’s Cantonese Service, shows rare footage of China’s black market production of “gutter oil.” The substance is first harvested as a waste product from grease traps and sewers before being processed in plants that mix it with animal fat and other products. The finished product is eventually sold to street food vendors, restaurants, and hotels to be used as cooking oil. RFA’s “Poisoned at the Source,” the series in which the exposé first appeared, gives an up-close glimpse into food production in China, focusing on practices in Guangdong Province. The series includes videos on the making and selling of bogus soy milk, the use of toxic waste as a fertilizer for commercial farming, and practices at an illegal slaughterhouse. From deadly infant formula to the discovery of thousands of dead pigs floating in a major river near Shanghai earlier this year, Chinese consumers increasingly worry whether the food on their tables is safe to eat, as do consumers and authorities in many countries to which China exports.

Chinese Gutter Oil Attains New Level of Gross

Chinese officials have arrested more than 100 people suspected of creating a new variety of recycled cooking oil concocted out of rotten animal parts, the latest crackdown in the government’s battle to eliminate so-called “gutter oil” from the country’s kitchens.

The government recently shut down 13 underground operations across China, in provinces such as coastal Jiangsu and in the cities of Shanghai and Chongqing, and seized an estimated 3200 tonnes of oil made from animal fat refuse, according to a Ministry of Public Security statement released Tuesday. The statement did not specify an exact date for the arrests and seizure.

The statement said “it took nearly five months of painstaking investigation” for public security officials around the country to find the gang responsible for the recycled oil operation.

Health warning : Watch what you eat!

Basically, a typical vegetable stall in a HDB coffee shop is manned by 3 persons. The main player will be the cook who is the in-charge of the food stall. He is assisted by one staff in the morning and another in the afternoon until it closes for the day. Understandably, the in-charge works extra hard with the longest hours operating from about 8am till 9pm catering to the lunch and dinner customers. On top of their basic pay, they are also given incentive payment if collection exceeds the target. There are CCTV cameras all over the stall to monitor them. The boss hardly comes over except to collect the day’s takings. The cash register captures all transactions. The in-charge of the stall is usually a FT from neighboring countries and recently many from PRC. Few locals could undertake such a demanding job churning out simple meals at dirt cheap prices.

Due to time constraint with only one assistant, the in-charge who does the cooking of more than 20 dishes has got to be fast and energetic. As such, he is forced to take short cuts and cut corners. This is what is happening in the food preparation. For example, the vegetable is never washed at all. One method is to boil a big pot of water and dump the unwashed vegetable to half-cook it. Thereafter, it’s then stir fried to taste. I do not worry about dirt and slime on the stalks and leaves of the vegetables. I am more perturbed by the tons of insecticide residue on them. Just look at the beautiful green leaves where even worms would not feast. Surely it must be the insecticide that is keeping away the worms chewing on it. If it is not thoroughly washed and eaten by unsuspecting consumers, what would happen

Wonder no more why city folks like us are getting all kinds of illnesses especially colon cancer. Think of what I just sketched for your imagination. It is no joke and witnessed by my mum working there. As such, she always advises us not to consume green vegetable in a cooked stall except the bean sprouts where they got no choice but to wash them to clear the uneatable husks of the green sprouts. (tuagai)

Health Warning: Check your cuppa from the stall

Just imagine in the drinks stall of the hawker centre or coffee shop. Do you think it’s devoid of lizards, rats or cockroaches? Do you not think that those vermins do not have a mother of all feasts during the night on the rows of empty glasses with sugar and sweet condensed milk inside before that stall opens up for business the next morning to serve your favourite cup of coffee or tea.

A quick cuppa before you go off rushing to work? If your stomach is not that strong, you might get that stomach cramp syndrome leading to another rush – this time for for the “jamban”. What if you were on board a train? Not a pleasant experience right? It seems that it’s quite a prevalent practice for those coffee shop stall holders to prepare in advance the next morning’s cup of coffee or tea. Try looking around yourself and observe what I say here. It’s happening right before your eyes. Many of us are not aware of it.

Question is why NEA is not doing anything? Why is it not stopping such unhygienic practice? NEA should stop this practice by giving warning or take enforcement action. Are they sleeping or simply not bothered at all? Just like those irresponsible coffee stall holders, NEA just don’t bother cuz they are not drinking the coffee or tea? It’s meant for customers like you and me. They certainly won’t drink from those glasses. Just for a quick buck, they simply don’t bother about hygiene. It’s terrible isn’t it?

Full Coverage:
Hong Kong Standard: Gutter oil' king on fraud raps
New York Time: Taiwanese Tycoon Faces Charges in Cooking Oil Scandal
66 more articles: Explore in depth

S China Morning Post: Ting Hsin food firm boss charged over tainted cooking oil
GlobalPost: Taiwan probes fresh tainted oil claim
Olive Oil Times: Executive Arrested in Taiwan Cooking Oil Scandal
AsiaOne: Taiwanese noodle firm to pay $127 million over food scandal
China Post: Public outcry results in boycott against Ting Hsin
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FoodNavigator: Minister quits as Taiwan gutter oil investigation reach conclusion
BBC News: KFC owner Yum cuts profit outlook on China food scare
The Guardian: An urbanist's guide to Melbourne: 'It's as hard to find a laneway
South China Morning Post: Smarter criminals pose new legal risk
New York Times: Taiwanese Tycoon Faces Charges in Cooking Oil Scandal
More News: More news for gutter oil fraud
thestandard: `Gutter oil' king on fraud raps - The Standard
scmp: Chief of 'gutter oil' firm detained in Taiwan on fraud charges
channelnewsasia: Taiwan's health minister quits over 'gutter oil' scandal
straitstimes: Taiwan company head charged in 'gutter oil' scandal
wikipedia: Gutter oil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
time: 'Gutter Oil' Scandal Raises Food-Safety Fears Once Again
wsj: Arrests Made in China 'Gutter Oil' Scandal - WSJ Blogs
news yahoo: Man held as Taiwan says 900 restaurants used gutter oil
youtube: Recycled Gutter Oil Still a Problem for Chinese Consumers ...
china.timesofnews: Chief of 'gutter oil' firm detained in Taiwan on fraud charges
citylab: This Exposé of China's 'Gutter Oil' Black Market Will Churn
ibtimes: Made in China: Top 5 Fake, Gross Chinese Products
theatlantic: China's Frightening, Unpleasant Cooking-Oil Scandal
stackexchange: health - Is "gutter oil" a problem in any other country besides
whatsonningbo: Taiwan detains chief of 'gutter oil' firm on fraud charges
msn: Taiwan's health minister quits over 'gutter oil' scandal
newshongkong: Trio held for fraud in gutter-oil probe | NewsHongKong
theaustralian: China arrests 32 over 'gutter' oil scam - The Australian
indianexpress: Now, China rocked by 'gutter oil' fraud - Indian Express
wn: Trio held for fraud in gutter-oil probe - WorldNews
naturalnews: 10 Percent of China's cooking oil could be 'gutter oil
foodnavigator: Minister quits as Taiwan gutter oil investigation reaches
foodsafetynews: Food Company Executive Detained in Taiwan's Ongoing
chinapost: China arrests 32 over 'gutter' cooking oil scam - China Post
chinadaily: Boeing, China cooperate to turn "gutter oil" into biofuel