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April 2, 2010

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Shanghai swoops to thwart swill oil

SHANGHAI food-safety watchdogs are streamlining techniques to head off the use of illegal and potentially toxic swill oil in restaurants.

Inspections of city restaurants and cooking-oil recycling plants have been increased and officers are going undercover in a bid to catch offenders.

There is no national technology available that can identify swill oil that is made from restaurant kitchen grease.

Experiments have begun to try to differentiate between ordinary cooking oil and the illegal product, an official with the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration told legislators at a meeting yesterday.

However, inspectors face a daunting task.

The city has many thousand eateries of different sizes but only a percentage of them - mostly larger restaurants - are licensed to practice kitchen-waste recycling, the greenery bureau said yesterday.

"Most offenders are small eateries," a bureau official said. "The owners are unwilling to pay to have food waste processed legally.

"Plus, they can sell it to illegal collectors and make money."

Legislators yesterday suggested the city government offer incentives so more restaurants become involved in the legal recycling process.

"This issue is a public health concern," said legislator Hu Wei.

Legislators hailed an ongoing trial by Jing'an District government, which paid oil collectors 2 million yuan (US$292,984) last year to offer free "takeaway" services to small eateries there.

Citywide, authorities collected 40 million yuan last year from restaurants for food-waste recycling.

The bureau said yesterday the city's eateries and food producers generated at least 1,000 tons of kitchen and meal leftovers each day.

More than 100 tons of this is outside of official supervision.

The FDA official said one improvement was the isolation of cholesterol in oil-quality tests.

Cholesterol is not in new food oil, but is likely to be found in swill oil.

City legislators yesterday called for "a direct, immediate and efficient" testing approach to wipe out swill oil.

Checks on city restaurants and oil production and consumption factories in the past two years had not uncovered any swill oil, the Shanghai FDA and the quality and technical supervision bureau said yesterday.

Six underground oil mills were busted last year.

Shanghai enacted legislation that became effective in 2005 requiring restaurants to pay for the recycling service for their kitchen waste and grease, based on a report and registration system.

A restaurant must report to its district greenery authority on its estimated daily food waste, which determines how much it pays - with the ceiling charge set at 60 yuan per authority-supplied waste bucket.


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