Bid to create standards for waste cooking oil
The central government has launched a national research project to create safety standards to identify 'gutter oil' or waste cooking oil.
The authorities have completed a draft plan to unify food-safety laboratories' technical methods and evaluation benchmarks when dealing with samples believed to contain such oil.
They have also collected samples of waste cooking oil, which were taken from leftover kitchen waste and illegally resold as fresh cooking oil.
But the standards would still need to be extensively reviewed by top mainland scientists and chemical engineers, Xinhua News Agency said.
A timetable for the project was not announced.
Some experts say that because of the highly uncertain composition of waste cooking oil - often a mixture of several types of plant and animal fats - scientists find it hard to pinpoint a set of chemical and physical characteristics that can be used to identify it. So it can be difficult to detect waste oil in tests.
Dr Mu Ying, a life sciences professor at the Dalian University of Technology, said that Chinese researchers had been studying gutter oil for years, but had failed to reach a consensus on its scientific definition or on methods to identify it.
'Gutter oil has eluded scientists as the most wanted outlaw in the edible-oil industry for years,' said Mu, a chemical engineer familiar with food-oil products. 'It is disgusting, but this is probably the only thing that everyone agrees on.'
Scientists are still debating just about every aspect of waste cooking oil, right down to its chemical and molecular composition. They are unable to even agree on whether it is safe. Some said it could cause cancer.
Dr Bi Yanlan, a chemistry professor at Henan University of Technology, said gutter oil had become such a sensitive topic that scientists involved in the national study would need permission from the government propaganda department before speaking to the media.
Mu said that if an illicit oilprocessing facility had a basic understanding of chemical reactions, it could filter out most of the non-fat substances and make their product look and taste almost identical to oil that has not been reprocessed. 'If the oil can deceive the nose and tongue, it will have a good chance of beating laboratory equipment,' Mu said.