FOOD SAFETY

Some traders, eateries on 'gutter oil' list of shame protest their innocence

Some traders on government list say they have never used edible oils from Taiwan, let alone from company at heart of the scandal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2014, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 September, 2014, 5:15pm

Some shops were left to protest their innocence yesterday after finding themselves on a Centre for Food Safety list which named 383 businesses suspected of using tainted lard from the Taiwanese firm at the centre of a "gutter oil" scandal.

Some of the traders said they had never used lard from Taiwan.

There were others who admitted having used lard from the troubled Kaohsiung-based cooking oil supplier, Chang Guann - but stressed they stopped as soon as the scandal emerged.

The government's list, released on Sunday night, covers neighbourhood bakeries, restaurants, distributors and even a five-star hotel, the Hyatt Regency in Tsim Sha Tsui.

A Sha Tin outlet of the Butao Ramen chain is on the list. A spokesman for the branch said yesterday: "Our oil is from the Netherlands. We have never used any oil from Taiwan since this shop opened in October."

Likewise, Good Hope Noodle in Mong Kok, which was awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin, said that in its 30 or so years in business, lard from Taiwan was never an ingredient as it would use only locally made edible oils.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said officials had collected the 383 names from importers and distributors of the Taiwanese product.

"The next step we will take is to verify the information with the retailers and restaurants," he told Commercial Radio. "Some traders say they have not bought [the lard]. We will verify with them. The truth will then be known."

Chang Guann is believed to have blended industrial lard oil with "gutter oil" - made from recycled food waste - and sold it as edible. In Hong Kong, six importers buy in the product.

The head of the company, Yeh Wen-hsiang, was detained by Taiwanese prosecutors on Saturday for questioning. The following day, Hong Kong banned the import, sale and supply of all Chang Guann lard and lard products made after March 1.

Two Mong Kok bakeries admitted having purchased lard from one of the named distributors, Hop Hing Oil Procurement, for the past two to three years, but claimed to have switched to a Dutch brand since the news broke more than a week ago.

"Hop Hing had told me there was no problem with the type of oil supplied to me," Hung Fat Bakery owner Tommy Tang said.

"Still, I have stopped using the oil and now use oil from the Netherlands. I am running a small business and I won't pursue the case with [Hop Hing]."

A barrel of lard cost HK$190 from Taiwan but HK$300 from the Netherlands, Tang said.

At Kee Chui Cake Shop, owner Cheung Yui-kong said: "Hop Hing's explanation was quite vague. It said only that the oil supplied to me was not from the Taiwanese factory in question."

Hyatt Regency said it replaced Chang Guann lard with Canadian edible oils on September 8. that was three days after Taiwan ordered all Chang Guann products to be shelved.

A spokeswoman said the Taiwanese oil was used between late May and September after imports from Canada ran out. Three desserts were affected - egg tarts, toppings of pineapple buns and Chinese pan-fried dumplings.

As she walked out of Maria's Bakery in Sha Tin City One Plaza, shopper Sandy Au Yeung said the list should have been released earlier.

"The government made the announcement only when the incident became serious," she added.

"I know this bakery is on the list. I just bought a piece of cake, and not a pineapple bun or anything that is made of lard."

Consumer Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han called for a change in the law to impose deadlines for food companies to notify the government on any food safety issues.


Hong Kong oil supplier vows to improve testing

A major edible oil supplier in Hong Kong that bought lard from the scandal-hit Taiwanese firm Chang Guann has said it will expand the scope of its tests on lard products after the food scare.

Lam Soon Group bought 1,312 15kg cans of the Chiba brand of refined blended lard from Chang Guann in February, and sold 360 cans to Cafe De Coral.

Lam Soon Group and Cafe De Coral gave conflicting accounts as to whether Kaohsiung-based Chang Guann's involvement in the manufacture of the Chiba oil was made clear.

Cafe De Coral said it had no idea of the link before Lam Soon told it earlier this month that it had contracted Chang Guann to make the Chiba oil. However, Lam Soon said that wasn't the case, and that the oil's packaging even listed Chang Guann in the manufacturing details.

Chang Guann is accused of selling edible oils containing industrial-grade lard oil and so-called gutter oil, made from recycled cooking oil.

Taiwanese authorities have identified 25 lard brands made after March 1 by Chang Guann as problematic. The Chiba brand was not in the list.

Edmund Cheng Nai-kam (pictured), the general manager of Lam Soon's edible oil division, said the incident had prompted them to rethink whether test standards could be improved.

The company's technical director, Albert Chiu Kwok-bong, added that manufacturers around the world were also exposed to other risks. Chiu said the company would expand the scope of its tests and demand more documentation on lard products from now on.

"For example, we would ask the supplier where they got the pork from, where was its origin," Chiu said. "We will run more [product] tests and conduct inspections more frequently … We would also look at the toxicity in the oil, not only the level of heavy metal and Benzo[a]pyrene."

Cheng said consumers were now "sensitive" to products made in Taiwan and said the company would consider sourcing lard from other countries, such as South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands.

Lam Soon makes 400 tonnes of cooking oil daily in its Shenzhen plant, including the Knife and Red Lantern brands.

Cheng reassured Hong Kong consumers that no animal oil or gutter oil were added to its edible oils refined from plants.

Timmy Sung