Restaurant head chef talks about drainage oil in China

| March 18th, 2010

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From Sina:

I am not going to say which city, which restaurant, I don’t want to lose my job. But I want to talk about the current situation of the drainage oil (地沟油). I am working at this sizable restaurant as the head chef, so I know some information about this.

Our restaurant’s waste oil is usually produced in two ways: the used oil after frying many foods and the waste oil from the water after washing dishes and pots.

Used oil is stored in bins, people will pay to collect them, not stored waste oil is dumped into the sewers, and this waste oil is also fished out later. There is a big hotel near my home. Many times at night I saw minivan carrying many barrels, people in the car open up the manhole covers and connect to the hotel kitchen, using a long spoon to pick up the oil floating on the water surface.

To be frank, big restaurants and big hotels are the main places producing drainage oil.

In the city I am in, people already clearly scooped out the big restaurants and hotels’ sewage pathways. Now it was already exposed on CCTV, the relevant departments have been keeping a tight grip, so the cases of fishing sewer waste oil are fewer now, however purchasing used oil is still very common.

Used oil and the floating oil fished up from the sewers are now all called drainage oil. Drainage oil must not be consumed by people. It can only be used as raw materials for producing chemical products. However there is profit in this, the trend is an above average restaurant can produce 100 kg of used oil in a month, each kg sells for over 1 yuan, so the profit is 200-300 yuan a month. Not only this, the people come to fish from the sewers also pay the restaurant; they pay 200-300 a month.

Do not underestimate the sewers, every time they can pick up 10- 20 kg! Therefore, people are in competition for fishing the waste oil. These people must pay the restaurants and hotels money each month. After a deal is formed, hotel security guards only permit these people to fish out waste oil and deny all others. If someone pays a higher price then they will be permitted instead.

In the city where I live, say a medium-sized restaurant produces 100kg a month plus the dumped waste oil being fished out the total drainage oil produced in a month should be around 4,000 kg. Where does it flow to after the drainage oil is collected?

Of course the dinner table!

Now the people who collect drainage oil are not only those workshops that specialize in drainage oil processing, but also including some fast food restaurants. Because 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. Because the cheap price, and it looks clear enough, drainage oil becomes the choice of the evil owners. Actually small food shops’ oil consumption is not small, especially the boiled fish and hotpot etc. using drainage oil saves a lot of money.

However that is not all, medium sized restaurant needs 400kg oil a month, purchasing it from the supermarket can be very costly, so they usually order in bulks to be delivered to them.

There is always loopholes, when each new restaurant opens, there will be grain and oil distributors contacting them. In the end which distributor gets the contract all depends on the price, just like any competition. As for the quality of the oil usually is only determined by human eyes. But the oil delivered in the big white bin does not have any information about the manufacturer, production date and expatriation date. The chefs here do not even know where the oil we use is produced. Say, if the distributor mixes in fake drainage oil, there is really nothing we can do.

We are most afraid of using drainage oil, because if oil producer mixes in water, it would sizzle and making loud noises when heat up. It is easy to determine that, but drainage oil is undetectable.

However the hotels and restaurants have their difficulties too. The profit for selling waste oil each month is not so great; of course profit is still the reason. Also, there are also legitimate factories here specializing in processing waste oil for producing chemical raw materials. These factories come to collect waste oil, not only refuse to pay the restaurant; instead restaurant must pay the factories a fee. Obviously we give something away to them, but still have to pay them? Restaurant manager feels that this is unreasonable. But waste oil must be dealt with, so when people come to pay for them, of course the restaurant is willing. In fact if the legitimate factory comes to collect the waste oil and we don’t have to pay, we would have been willing too.

Among the variety of kitchen supplies oil is the most chaotic and the hardest to regulate. The masses regard food as their heaven, the safety of edible oil is already affecting food industry’s credibility. Everyone should have the mind set of using safe oil, absolutely opposing the evil oil. At the same time issues of recycling waste oil should be addressed so that the evil oil market will decline on its own.

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40 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. GuoBao says:

    Words cannot describe how absolutely disgusting that is. I am thinking of a way to figure out if some of the local restaurants I frequent use this “oil” but obviously it’s impossible to tell. One thing is to reuse oil forever (which I guess they all do to some extent) but to fish it out of the sewers to use it again?? It’s hard to fathom.

  2. Carl says:

    Oh WHAT THE FUCK.

    WHAT

    THE

    FUCK

    I’ve heard of this before and i dismissed it as non-sense, i mean… if i get to hear it from people in Canada about this, the Chinese in China surely knows. It’s unthinkable that they arent shot for doing this. where the fuck are their humanity? holy sh..

    The worst part is, even big restaurants are doing this, so when you think bigger is better, “no it ain’t”. I’m pretty sure people won’t simply die from digesting these oil, or the people making them will lose their business, they would know this much, “don’t kill your customers too fast”. But even so, people get SICK from eating this for sure! All the chemicals in the oil, and the microbs… ewwwwww… omg.. argg..

    (i think im just repeating guobao, but still)

  3. Wang Er says:

    Horrified! I mean, seriously, how much profit one can get from using drainage oil? Few hundreds a month for putting poison in your customers’ dishes? And the customers visiting your restaurant may include the ones that see you everyday in the same community? 干! Let’s roll back to the good old days with public executions and put some splendid death to these scum. I would LOVE to donate the bullets (or blades if it’s a Ten-Thousand Cuts) and have a necklace of corrupted restaurant owners’ teeth.

    [now return to my normal non-venting state]

    I didn’t know that some large restaurants use drainage oil too. The post author should release the restaurant’s name and location. Hiding these information is a crime.

  4. djflskj says:

    Recycle and population control at their best! Best way to save the Earth!

  5. pug_ster says:

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-03/19/content_9611395.htm

    Here’s a Chinadaily article on this. The government has been cracking down on this in the big cities and now it is happening in under-developed areas in the city.

  6. Jay K says:

    after awhile your body gets used to it and adapts, even adds some flavoring to the the 水煮鱼

  7. CraZY says:

    They must all be executed, every single last one.
    Put them in a ditch and fire a HE shell at them, it should take care of quite a few in one go.

    Or send them all to labour camps for the rest of their lives, I could use some labourers that requires no pay.

    • Pepe says:

      I suggest frying the fuckers in oil, and recycling that oil to fry more restaurant fuckers. That way you kill two brids with one stone, you get riod of the problem, and help the environment by reusing the oil.

  8. Stan says:

    This is sensationalism. First clue I know of no head chef who can write this well in English! This is written by a Westerner who wishes to step the growth of China!

    Second, I personally know the companies who produce edible oil for China. The biggest belongs to the people who own Shangrila Hotels and Coca Cola! They have the biggest Pilm Oil acreage in the world. And I personally know who wise these people are. If they know something like what is being described, then they have connections right up there in government who would haul those guilty to jail!

    This is hogwash! It’s a Western ploy to disgrace China! Don’t fall into this trap! I’ve eaten lots in China. From restaurants to road side stalls! Chinese are careful because they want their customers to come back, not die!

    • wok says:

      No, this is not sensationalism.

      No, this is not hogwash.

      No, this is not a Western ploy.

    • Key says:

      @Stan,
      First this is a translation of a Chinese post written by the head chef on sina forum, the original post is linked in the article. Now, the real identity of the poster, I guess no one really knows, but this goes out to anything you read on the internet. However, the drainage oil problem has been on the Chinese news for quite sometime now, no westerner is making this up or trying to step the growth of China… in fact this was shown on CCTV, Chinese government and the people are aware of the situation and are trying to get more exposures to stop this…
      If you can read Chinese just search the term 地沟油

    • Erb says:

      This has been reported by all the major gov. news outlets. Not hogwash in the slightest and not an attempt to ‘disgrace’ China. An example of old habits that need to be ceased, quickly.

      Fortunately the Gov. is cracking down on this apalling practice.

      So gross. The pictures are absolutely nasty.

    • GuoBao says:

      Don’t feed the troll

    • J says:

      wow. 五毛党 even posts in english?! amazing. i wonder if he got an entire kuai for this. china hush should feel honored to have been graced by such a “you have arrived” sort of moment. street cred, baby.

    • r says:

      Another example of some poor person falling into the trap of believing the rubbish nationalism spread so effectively through the Chinese media and education system. This ‘chip on one’s shoulder’ attitude of blaming other ethnic groups for China’s problems is tiring and worn out.

      Why not accept criticism and use it to move forward? Nationalism and patriotism is a poison that leads to fascism. We should use our minds and think critically.

      Obviously the article has been translated. There are many grammar and usage errors that a native speaker of English would not make.

  9. wok says:

    SHANZAI OIL… YAY!

    WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF NEXT?

  10. Hahaha says:

    Seen it being collected in my ‘hometown’ for years in this way – also see the ‘recycled bottles’ full of the stuff hanging on the sides of the ‘street-hawker’ stalls.
    the collectors were quite open where it was going and what it would become!

    I used to own a store that had access to empty alcohol bottles and old oil containers and the ‘rubbish collectors’ would pay the staff for bottles with ‘intact and undamaged’ labels for the ‘recycling business’.
    Eventually (after inadvertantly re-buying some of the ‘fake’ stuff and making customers sick) , to stop this business, the management would destroy the bottles and labels.

    Industrious: yes, hygenic: probably not, horrible to think about: definately!!!

    Hasn’t stopped my buying and eating street food though!!!

    • foreigner says:

      Cheers to that. The practice is horrible, I see farmer’s cooking the vats of sewage oil when i go running outside my city. I know the woman cooking street noodles at 2am is using the stuff. (you can tell the difference at least sometimes when the oil is darker and has sediment in the bottom of the bait bucket she scoops it out of). But in the end, it tastes alright. Kind of a part of rolling with the punches when being a foreigner in China.

      Despite common sense, it really doesnt get you sick. I’m sure its slowly killing me, but so is the air and the rest of life in a chinese slum.

  11. Joel says:

    I’ve seen this happening, but at the time I didn’t understand what was going on. People would regularly go ‘fishing’ with a narrow bucket attached to a long pole (like in the photos) in the manhole outside a restaurant we used to go to a lot. I assumed they were getting sewage for their gardens or something. Had no idea it was for the restaurant’s waste oil.

    My Chinese teachers told me early on after I accidentally bought a bottle of vinegar that came in a Budweiser bottle: don’t buy anything packaged in the caishichang (菜市场) or from xiaomaibus (小卖部)。Those places are full of this kind of fake stuff. It’s obvious: go compare how the labels are glued to the bottles between the vegetable market (crooked, sloppily glued) and the major super markets (mostly normal). I’ve even seen poorly printed (fuzzy) copies of regular name brand labels. Once we compared two bottle of the exact same vinegar: the labels and the taste were obviously different.

  12. elcid says:

    If you want a ‘big’ restaurant that recycles its oil, check out Mei Zhou Dong Po. The one in Tuanjiehu, they had this ‘van from hell’ come round and pick up the old oil, and it would deliver ‘fresh’ oil back for the restaurant in the same barrels. Absolutely gross. But normal, i have seen the same unmistakeable van at other places.
    As long as we eat processed food and eat at restaurants we will get stuffed by those that produce this processed food.

  13. asdf says:

    Absolutely gross, and shouldn’t be tolarated, but this is part of china’s growing pains. Same sh*t happened and worse when western countries developed. Read Sinclair’s The Jungle.

  14. JT says:

    The oil is used to produce renewable diesel, not for cooking.
    You guys are all mistaken.

  15. Baoru says:

    I’ve heard a lot about this and not just in China. I’ve heard people using drainage oil for their gas tanks (for cars). This is definitely a better use than this…ugh.

  16. bert says:

    China. The only place where a person will trip over 5 yuan to grab 5 mao!

  17. Chinitis says:

    Must Hu Jintao eat during one week -breakfast, lunch and dinner- meals cooked with this oil… excuse me, this poison? Only if Hu Jintao knows that one solution can be coming.

  18. Peter says:

    Yammi…tasted..i like the drainage oil, is healthy to human body and ilove it’s taste! keep it up!!

  19. Curren$y says:

    yeaaa boyyyyyyy yall niggas moving cocaine but im moving them drainage oil son

  20. lay low moe says:

    this is some sick shit

  21. tibetan says:

    really cant be believed ,,,shit,, fuck ,, what a hell really it is !!!!

  22. lay low moe says:

    mainlander are fucked up stupid
    they could process this as diesel instead of using it for cooking

  23. Sharan says:

    Very interesting article. I particularly noted the following point that you make:

    “However the hotels and restaurants have their difficulties too. The profit for selling waste oil each month is not so great; of course profit is still the reason. Also, there are also legitimate factories here specializing in processing waste oil for producing chemical raw materials. These factories come to collect waste oil, not only refuse to pay the restaurant; instead restaurant must pay the factories a fee. Obviously we give something away to them, but still have to pay them? Restaurant manager feels that this is unreasonable. But waste oil must be dealt with, so when people come to pay for them, of course the restaurant is willing. In fact if the legitimate factory comes to collect the waste oil and we don’t have to pay, we would have been willing too.”

    This, to me, is the crucial factor. Restaurants are expected to PAY waste collectors to collect the waste oil. This is another motivation for them to misuse the oil.

    The solution, therefore, is quite simple. Whoever collects the waste oil MUST pay the hotels for it; they must not expect the hotels to pay them to collect the oil. The government can itself organise such collection of waste oil. There are many useful and profitable applications for it, including the production of fuel oil to generate electrical energy. Small plants can be set up in towns and cities to turn this waste oil into electricity which can then be sold to consumers and to the electricity utilities. This will also lead to avoiding polluting the drains and water systems with waste oil.

  24. Sharan says:

    Just read the Chinadaily article. It says:

    “According to He’s research, the illegal cooking oil business is extremely profitable.

    “One ton of cooking oil made from kitchen waste costs only 300 yuan ($44). A barrel of oil makes a profit of 70 to 80 yuan. On average, one person collects four barrels. Even if the oil is sold at half the price of ordinary oil, you could make over 10,000 yuan a month. Even a chore man in the business gets a monthly wage of 2,500 yuan,” He told the newspaper.”

    That’s some serious money to be made, for simply going fishing in drains. Obviously, to stop it, you will need to make it profitable for the restaurants NOT to pour the waste oil down drains or sell it to such unscrupulous people, as I wrote in my previous post. If the government will not do it, I see a huge opportunity here for some entrepreneur to set up a business collecting this oil and turning it into money legitimately.

  25. GinTama says:

    I think i’m gonna puke after reading this article… it’s sooo disgusting…

  26. RD says:

    I think some of the comments are a bit hypacritical. Here is BC Canada we drool more oil out of our precious look-at-me-mobiles every year than was spilled by the Exxon Valdeez.

    Most of these people are willing to bad-mouth an environmentalist if they are out in public.

  27. STFU Kimchi says:

    It happens in korea too, its just that no one cares about the well being of koreans to investigate.

  28. Cindy says:

    You SUCK! I don’t know why you keep bashing the Chinese. Every nationality has its own flaws. Look at your own before you start criticizing others. So, shut the F up.

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