Starbucks and 7-Eleven in Hong Kong drawn into ‘gutter oil’ scandal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 September, 2014, 12:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 2014, 7:33pm

More big chains have been drawn into the scandal over the use of old or tainted cooking oil in Hong Kong, as it emerged on Monday that cakes made with “gutter oil” had been sold by 7-Eleven, Starbucks and Café Express among others.

Four importers in Hong Kong have been found to have bought oil from Chang Guann, the Taiwan-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.

On Monday, Maxim’s Group confirmed it had been using gutter oil supplied by Urban Food to make some 9,000 pineapple buns a day for the last three years.

About 85 per cent of the buns had then been supplied to its Maxim’s Cakes outlets and to the convenience chain 7-Eleven. Another 15 per cent had been supplied to popular shops including Arome Bakery, the Café Express shop in Central MTR and two Starbucks shops – one on Duddell Street in Central and the other on Sai Yee Street in Mong Kok.

Maxim’s said it purchased a total of some 34 tonnes of oil from Urban Food.

“For safety reasons, we have stopped using the oil since September 5, and have recalled all pineapple buns. Samples have been given to independent testing organisations for tests. We have also returned the 0.9 tonnes of Chang Guann oil we had to Urban Food. We will be using lard imported from Holland to make pineapple buns,” the statement said.

Maxim’s said that, apart from the pineapple buns, the affected oil had not been used in the making of any other food items, or at any of its restaurants.

The Centre for Food Safety has said that so far there was no evidence to show that the oil purchased by the three other Hong Kong importers was tainted.

The centre has refused to release the number or names of restaurants and bakeries that the three other importers sold oil to.

Maxim’s has given the government “verbal confirmation” that its mooncakes were not made with the affected oil, but labouratory tests are being carried out to confirm that.

Supermarket chain Wellcome has taken two Taiwanese food items off its shelves – Bull Head BBQ Sauce and Long Kow Traditional Tiny Noodles – as a precaution.

The scandal was uncovered on September 1 when police raided the unlicensed factory in Taiwan.

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

“It’s hard to tell how much of that chemical [would be needed to] cause cancer,” he said. “But what is also important is that gutter oil often contains metal contaminants. That can damage your nervous system even in the short term.”