Mooncakes face tests in gutter oil scandal

Mooncakes face lab tests as ‘gutter oil’ scare spreads to Hong Kong

The gutter oil scare deepened in Hong Kong after it emerged that another importer in the city had purchased oil from the Taiwanese supplier at the centre of the scandal.

The gutter oil scare deepened in Hong Kong and Macau yesterday after it emerged that another importer in the city and 21 businesses in the former Portuguese enclave had purchased oil from the Taiwanese supplier at the centre of the scandal.

Four importers in Hong Kong have been found to have bought oil from Chang Guann, the Kaoshiung-based supplier accused of buying at least 240 tonnes of gutter oil - recycled from kitchen waste, by-products from leather processing plants and offal from slaughterhouses - from an unlicensed factory.

The Hong Kong importers are Dah Chong Hong, Synergy Foods, Angliss Hong Kong Food Service and Urban Food.

"We have taken 46 samples for laboratory tests, including 22 food samples and 24 oil samples," said Dr Ho Yuk-yin, the Centre for Food Safety's consultant of community medicine.

The samples taken include mooncakes, almond strips, cookies and various kinds of bread.

Ho said Urban Food had supplied the affected oil only to Maxim's Cakes to make pineapple buns and that these had been taken off the shelves already.

Urban Food had supplied 390 barrels of oil, each 15kg, from Chang Guann to Maxim's Cakes since April. The centre has confiscated 163 of the barrels.

"The three importers have sold the lard to many companies. But from our investigation, we so far cannot find any evidence that the lard they purchased is the affected oil," Ho said.

He refused to divulge the number of restaurants or bakeries that the three importers sold the oil to.

"We have taken precautionary measures to mark and seal the products … and asked them to recall the products," he said.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said that Dah Chong Hong had sold oils from Chang Guann to up to 20 businesses.

He also said that Maxim's had given the government a verbal confirmation that its mooncakes were not made with the affected oil. But he said the government would carry out laboratory tests to confirm gutter oil was not used. "In Hong Kong, so far we don't have evidence that there are mooncakes made with the affected pig oil. But since the investigation is still ongoing, I cannot rule out this possibility today."

Maxim's Group insisted last night that, apart from the pineapple buns, the affected oil had not been used in any other food item, or in any of its restaurants.

Shing Cheong Hong, a supplier that was earlier found to have bought oil from Chang Guann, said yesterday that it purchased the oil from another local supplier, Synergy Foods.

It stressed that the oil it bought was not the affected oil.

Meanwhile, supermarket chain Wellcome yesterday took two Taiwanese food items off the shelves - Bull Head BBQ Sauce and Long Kow Traditional Tiny Noodles - as a precaution.

In Macau, the city's Food Safety Centre said that 21 bakeries and food manufacturers had bought oil from Chang Guann. They have in stock more than 1,000 buckets of the affected oil. The government has told the companies to stop using the oil.

Wilson Chau Cheuk-fung, a lecturer in applied science at the Institute of Vocational Education, said that gutter oil may contain a cancer-causing chemical.

"It's hard to tell how much of that chemical will cause cancer," he said. "But what is also important is that gutter oil often contains metal contaminant. That can damage your nerve system even in the short-run."

In Taiwan yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration's deputy director-general, Chiang Yu-mei, said 235 companies had sold the oil to 933 food outlets, food reprocessing companies, night markets and restaurants.

Of the 645 tonnes sold, 69 tonnes went to Taipei-based Gassho Co, which repackaged the oil under the brand "Ho Chiang Fragrant Lard Oil", which was divided into 4,611 cartons and sold to at least 437 businesses across Taiwan.

Investigators are targeting another as yet unidentified Taipei-based company, which bought the oil from Chang Guann.

On the mainland, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said it had not found any imports of the tainted oil. But the quality watchdog has ordered local authorities to suspend inspection applications filed by Taiwanese companies, and to examine their past export records to the mainland.

Harry's view
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Mooncakes face tests in gutter oil scandal