24 April 2012

Living Dangerously in Communist China

From the beijinger.com

One of the most disturbing aspects of living in contemporary China is the seemingly endless stream of food safety bad news stories. The past week has seen some real doozies even by China standards, with a CCTV investigative report claiming many disposable chopsticks are highly toxic, and allegations that the use of oil dredged from drains is rampant in Chinese restaurants.

The CCTV report on the manufacturing of disposable chopsticks went to air last Monday (March 15), featuring images of workers happily walking over piles of the utensils tossed on factory floors and dogs sniffing around work areas.

More disturbing were the allegations summarized in a Global Times report last Friday (March 19): “Toxic chemicals including sulfur, hydrogen peroxide and paraffin are believed to be used to keep disposable chopsticks white and smooth, and also as an insect repellent, according to a CCTV program on March 15. Hydrogen peroxide is a powerful oxidizer used as a rocket propellant, among its many other industrial applications.”

The Global Times report also quotes Dong Jinshi of the Kaifa Environment Technology Consultation Center talking about disposable chopsticks: "Eighty percent of these things are not safe… and when you consider the packaging, it is only worse. Some plastic sleeves are made of garbage plastic.”

Then there were the reports that waste oil sourced from drains commonly finds its way back into restaurant kitchens. The Global Times reported this morning: “Huang Fenghong, deputy director of the Oil Crops Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the Global Times that, after seven years of field research, his research team has concluded that the use of recycled oil is rampant in some areas, especially where cash-strapped migrant workers and students are major diners. Recycled cooking oil, dubbed ‘drainage oil,’ is refined from discarded kitchen waste and reused in the preparation of meals at restaurants and canteens. ‘The use of drainage oil will put the public's health in peril because it may contain heavy metal, waste antibiotics or aflatoxins, a highly toxic substance that could cause cancer,’ he said.”

The report continues: “He Dongping, a nutrition professor at central China's Wuhan Polytechnic University and a member of Huang's team, told the China Youth Daily on Thursday that people in China consume about 2 to 3 million tons of drainage oil a year. ‘China consumes about 22.5 million tons of cooking oil annually, which means that one in 10 meals in the country may be cooked with illegal cooking oil,’ the newspaper quoted him as saying.”

China Daily was more blunt: “Read this before you eat at Chinese restaurants next time. Every year, two to three million tons of swill-cooked dirty oil, soaked with poisonous carcinogens have sneaked back to our dining tables through an underground muck-money network so rampant that it's an open secret in the industry, the China Youth Daily reported Wednesday…. According to an undercover investigation in Wuhan by nine senior students of professor He, the conspiracy starts at night when swill-fishers hollow out the stinking hogwash from urban sewages, followed by filtrating, heating, subsiding, dividing, and then in the morning comes out the clear-looking ‘edible’ oil for unwitting customers.”

China Hush has translated a post that appeared on SINA in the wake of these allegations, supposedly written by an anonymous chef. The poster claims that “cases of fishing sewer waste oil are fewer now,” but sourcing oil from drains is still common practice.

The anonymous poster writes: “Where does it flow to after the drainage oil is collected? Of course the dinner table!... Drainage oil processing is simple: put it in a huge pot and heat it up, then add some chemicals, the residues and impurities in the waste oil are separated and sink to the bottom of the pot. The upper layer clear oil looks no different than the normal oil if just looking at it. The price for this oil is only 3 yuan per kg, and the normal edible oil costs 9 yuan per kg. The drainage oil is usually used by fast food restaurants, food stalls, street food stands and including some companies’ in-house cafeterias.”

So, to summarize: it appears the food supply and our milk are contaminated, the oil our food is cooked is often sourced from drains or sewers, and most of the chopsticks we eat with are highly toxic.

Bon appetite!

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